Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Headless Aviators

Posted by Neal on June 29, 2013

I didn’t even know “aviator sunglasses” were a recognized type of sunglasses, but apparently they are, and so much so that the full compound aviator sunglasses has become the headless compound aviators. My discovery of this was a bit startling, because it didn’t happen simply by me hearing someone talking about wearing aviators. Instead, when I took Doug and Adam for their eye exams, I saw on the reception counter a cardboard display showing small, laughing children wearing colorful, plastic-framed, wide-lensed sunglasses. The altered Top Gun logo told me that these unbelievably stylish sunglasses were called Babiators.

All at once, not only did I have to infer the existence of aviators as a noun referring to a kind of eyewear instead of a group of airplane pilots; I also had to take it in as part of an offensively cute portmanteau word, in a display for a product that shouldn’t even exist.

However, it is an interesting portmanteau. Component A: baby. Component B: aviators. On the one hand, you could break this portmanteau down as just baby + aviator: the beginning of the first component, the end of the other, and that’s all. On the other hand, there are some portmanteaus like the ones I described in this piece for TheWeek.com:

Sometimes, though, an identical string of sounds at the end of one word and the beginning of the other allows for a blend in which neither word has to give up anything. In a portmanteau such as bromance, everything is kept intact. Like an electron shared between two covalently bonded atoms, the ro belongs to both bro and romance. The same thing happens in guesstimate and netiquette.

Is babiators one of those? Almost, but not quite: [ebi] and [evi]. The [b] and the [v] don’t match. Still, they’re both voiced consonants made with the lips. A similar kind of overlap happens with the voiceless counterparts [p] and [f] in the verb refudiate that Sarah Palin raised our awareness of. (For what it’s worth, there are two differences with refudiate. First, the component refute still loses its final [t] consonant instead of being completely preserved. Second, I believe it was an unintentional mashup, not a consciously blended coinage.) So, was babiators created by the same kind of blending that gives us guesstimate and netiquette, or by the simpler kind that gives us spork? Or by some kind of discontinuous overlap?

On the semantics side, this is a portmanteau that was only possible once aviator sunglasses had become the headless aviators. The phrase babiator sunglasses would have to mean sunglasses worn by babiators. And whatever those might be, it would be even sillier than the actual idea behind the trademarked Babiators.

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2 Responses to “Headless Aviators”

  1. dcreag said

    A little sloppy there with your crossing out. Your version would give you the portmanteau baiators I would suggest bab(y)+(av)iators with phonetic, if not orthographic, overlap in the y of baby and the i of (av)iators.

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