Word Play

Unabashedly punny and anagrammatic, my father did not withhold this side of his wit in his novel. The new Lilliput is a world filled with scazpops, zingpups, fezerdicks, snickdids, paynetakitors, zangnuts, estibelobs, Nitpooperlers, popweezers, scatchmanmond, moronsnidge, Scakadors, sharis, disthedons, crinkplunks, bibancribs, and pinks.

The novel’s Glossary provides a list of most of the made up Lilliputian words and names. Some originated by Jonathan Swift, some were just meant to sound funny, but many are punny or anagrammatic references to institutions, people and events that may have been topical when it was written. But, as constant as human nature and foibles are, zeitgeist references age rapidly. So that many allusions will necessarily elude modern readers. Indeed, I probably have gleaned less than half. I thought I would review some of what I know and plead a seemly ignorance where I am completely mystified.

This is the first in a short series of posts that will summarize what I have been able to figure out about word play and references in the novel. I’ll take them in the order the book presents them, a few chapters at a time. So, let me begin at the beginning and see where that leads.

In the Foreword, Arthur first refers to the institution where he resides, Spoop Sanitorium, and his friend, Spaddle, who was instrumental in enabling Arthur’s voyage to Lilliput. I’m sure these names were chosen simply because they sound funny. I do not believe the institution’s name was at all related to the homonyms defined Urban Dictionary.

The word sanitorium itself drives all my spell-checkers crazy; they seem to think it should be sanatorium or sanitarium. More complete dictionaries do offer sanitorium as an alternative, albeit less common, spelling. However, it appears to me that in the 1930s the word referred to a medical facility for long-term illness, typically tuberculosis, or a kind of health resort, not a mental asylum as described in the novel. Somehow I doubt that my father noticed this imprecision in his language, even though he was an English teacher.

I was amazed to notice late in my editing that Spaddle’s first name was spelled inconsistently in my father’s manuscript, appearing as both Gluykus and Glykus at various places. I settled on the latter since his name was consistently abbreviated as Glyk. This error was a potent reminder of how difficult it is to edit a book length manuscript on a manual typewriter.

I don’t know how the name of Arthur’s other friend in the Sanitorium, Professor Isaac Eliminom, was coined. Of course the first name conjures up echoes of Isaac Newton, a scientific authority allusion if there ever was one. The name Eliminom I might conjecture is related to Gaussian elimination in linear algebra, but this is somewhat of a stretch. I know my father claimed not to know algebra and would not have studied linear algebra. But it is possible that he had heard the term and it inspired the Professor’s name.

When Arthur first encounters the Lilliputians, near the end of Chapter II, Lilliputian words and phrases are first introduced. The first officer that Arthur encounters is a Chalbrig (petty naval officer). This would appear to be the first of many Lilliputian words of my father’s invention in the novel. Jonathan Swift uses the word Galbet to refer to an Admiral of the Realm or high-admiral (e.g., Skyresh Bolgolam), but I can find no reference in Swift to the Lilliput words for lesser naval officers. My only guess about my father’s derivation of the word is that it may be a bad pun combining chal for jail with brig, a ship’s jail.

The first Lilliputian phrase which follows, Digrug fallertz ontz haba unto port out Kanutz (Ah nertz, Sir, he doesn’t know we haven’t a King) appears to me to be wholly my father’s invention and not obviously derived from the little Lilliputian that appears in Swift.

My wife pointed out to me the obvious derivation of Donkgop (the chief executive of Lilliput): it is a combination of donkey, the symbol of the Democratic Party, and G.O.P. (Grand Old Party), the nickname of the Republican Party. In keeping with the bipartisan nature of the pun on office title, I presume that Medid Wherding is intended to satirize not just Franklin Roosevelt, but also Herbert Hoover and American Presidents in general.

As mentioned in Chapter III, cheviot is a type of fine woolen tweed. Probably unrelated and unknown to my father in 1936, there is a neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles, near U.C.L.A., named Cheviot Hills.

Now that I think about it, might not the Donkgop’s name itself,
Medid Wherding, be an allusion to Word Play? This is a bit of a stretch; the pronunciation in Glossary is more akin to weirding (which has a connotation of Fate) than wording.

Jonathan Swift was also fond of word play. Many of the names referred to Arthur’s summary of Lilliputian history just after Lemuel’s departure are characters in Gulliver’s Travels.

  • Golbasto Momarem Evlame Gurdilo Shefin Mully Ully Gue was the Emperor, or King, of Lilliput during the time of Lemuel’s visit.
  • Skyresh Bolgolam was Lemuel’s worst enemy. One of Arthur’s enemies was another Skyresh, Skyresh Bagumsock. The reader may be forgiven for confusing the two names; there was some confusion of the names in the later chapters in the original typewritten manuscript copy. In fact, I might never have noticed this confusion during editing without the aid of my computer.
  • Flimnap was the High Treasurer;
  • Lalcon, the Chamberlain;
  • Limtoc, the General; and
  • Balmuff, the High Justiciary.

The parallel for the King’s ministers in Arthur’s time are the nine members of the Donkgop’s cabinet, the Nitpoopo. We are informed that the literal translation of this term from Lilliputian means Footlickers, scatological innuendos notwithstanding. Somehow, twongue-tistedly derived from this, their individual titles become Nitpooperler. The officers and the unlikely partition of their administrative responsibilities are described in Chapter III.

  • Nitpooperler Flebrow: High Civil Officer of Elections and Politics. Makes me think of highbrow and flea bitten.
  • Nitpooperler Garnite: Head of the Bureau of Garbage Disposal, Onion Culture, and Sandburr Conservation. A lackluster name, but there is some element of scatology in his office: chromatic sandburrs are the Lilliputian equivalent of designer toilet paper.
  • Nitpooperler Gravinap: High Officer of Health, Happiness, Disease, and Mortality. The obvious pun is grab a nap.
  • General Ossdoc: High Commander of the Lilliputian Army. Sounds like Cossack, which, as a military allusion, would make sense.
  • Admiral Spraygrees: High Commander of the Lilliputian Navy. Sounds like spray grease, but I don’t know of any further naval allusion.
  • Barrister Bittzzora: Head of the Department of Prison, Crime, Injustice, and Liquor Consumption. Seems like just a funny sounding name with strong alliteration to me.
  • Nitpooperler Wickdomp Ooick: High Nitpooperler for Education, Labor, and Cockroach Extermination. I don’t care to conjecture what wick domping might be or what onomatopoeia might be associated with it.
  • Nitpooperler Tomatocumber: High Officer of the Department of Money, Change, Currency, Cash, and Corruption. Tomato and cucumber spring to mind. Although vegetally unrelated, my father’s favorite all vegetable sentence was “Lettuce, turnip, and pea.”
  • Nitpooperler Oxmut Hirear: Head of the Department of Gambling, Recreation, Amusement, and Public Works. A glorious name! Alluding to high brow, but scatologically undercutting the pretense, while simultaneously incorporating bovine and canine references. With states now nurturing casino gambling as an industry to provide revenue, the department name no longer seems so far fetched.

At the end of Chapter III, we are introduced to Onk Watwil. This name may simply contain plays on oink and What will. But, while playing with the Wordsmith Anagram Solver, I noticed that one unscrambling is It know law. This leads me to wonder whether my father derived the name from a phase like I know law or Law, know it. Alas, I’ll never know.

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