From ‘Jabberwocky’ to ‘tober’-mania, a case for only clever wordplay

    Variations of plays on the word “October” have gotten out of hand, culminating in a ridiculous sandwich-selling campaign for Subway. We can place the blame squarely on FM radio marketers—and Lewis Carroll.

    Good riddance to you, October.

    A.k.a. Dog-tober. A.k.a. Pink-tober. A.k.a. Apple-tober.

    Besides being the month for releasing formerly unmarketable movies and for watching teams not the Phillies in the World Series, October has become the nesting ground for that most annoying and inane of marketing efforts.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    I speak, of course of the “-tober” craze.

    What began as the charmingly simple rhyme/puns of Rock-tober and Shock-tober has morphed into a torrent of annoying, often nonsensical mutations of the word October.

    There’s Egg-tober—raising funds for gynecological cancers. There’s Crop-tober—either a great time to be outdoors, or the chance to win a trip for two to Amsterdam for Cannabis Cup 2011. Your choice.

    And let’s not forget X-tober, a month-long celebration of “The X-Files.” Forget the truth, it’s the idiocy that’s out there.

    But the one that sends me screaming from the room is Subway’s “Anytober” campaign. Could there be a more stupid marriage of words? Coupled with its cloying “five-dollar foot-long” ditty, your ears bleed along with your mind.

    There’s always someone to blame. In case of tobermania, I’m throwing it on FM radio marketers. And Lewis Carroll.

    Believe it or not, as far back as 1980, two New York City stations were arguing over who could use the term “Rock-tober.” Then in the 1984 horror movie “Rocktober Blood,” a revenge-minded rock star rises from the dead to murder his band mates. Okay, maybe it’s not all that clever, but at least Rock-tober rhymes with October, and since it’s about rock music, it makes some kind of sense.

    But why throw stones at Mr. Carroll? The creator of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” almost singlehandedly popularized the notion of nonsense literature, especially with his epic and delightful poem “Jabberwocky.” In it, he combined words such as “chuckle” and “snort” to come up with one of my favorite words, “chortle.”

    To describe these creations, he co-opted the term portmanteau—two meanings packed into one word. In his day, a portmanteau was a suitcase, so the metaphor was perfect. Understand, when it came to words, this guy was a pro and could portmanteau with the best of them.

    What’s your favorite portmanteau?Share it in the comments below.

    Even today, many portmanteaux are just fine. Take “Texarkana,” the area on the border of Texas and Arkansas. I stopped for gas there once. Nice place. Or “spork,” the delightfully whimsical eating utensil combining “spoon” and “fork.” Or “jeggings” (“jeans” and “leggings,” which my daughter claims are terrific). Though when it comes to Comcast (“communication” and “broadcast”) or Verizon (“veritas” and “horizon”), I’m afraid any clever wordplay is overshadowed by the monthly bill. But, I digress.

    The problem begins when the amateur wordsmiths step in, those with little talent–or common sense. These people reasoned (I use the term loosely) that if “rock,” “shock” and “Bach” were good -tober matches, then why stop there? I think they missed the “shoat” or “bohip” or something like that. Portmenteaux should be labeled DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. OR AT AD AGENCIES.

    Unfortunately the Subway campaign seems to be working. Forbes magazine reports that the “Anytober” promotion helped push up Subway’s BrandIndex metrics to yearly highs. I have no idea what that means. But if those scores bring back “Anytober,” I will be frumious (“furious” and “fuming”). Thank you for that one, Mr. Carroll.

    All this makes me think of poor Alice, who said:

    “It all seems to fill my head with ideas–only I don’t know exactly what they are.”

    And that will be the official motto next year when I proclaim Witless-tober.

    See you then.

    Bill Wedo is a recovering journalist and Communications Manager at Studio Incamminati, a school for contemporary realist art in Center City.

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal