Whatpocalypse now?

« previous post | next post »

Today's Tank McNamara:

There's quite a bit of precedent for sportspocalypse — for example, Chris Ballard, "Sportspocalypse Now", Sports Illustrated 11/10/2008:

AS YOU may know, the Oklahoma City Thunder held its first-ever home opener last week, against the Milwaukee Bucks. Me, I headed to the only place to be on such a historic night: Floyd's Place bar in Seattle. […]

Think your city's suffering? Imagine if your favorite team bolted town after 41 seasons, not for some cosmopolitan burg but a dusty outpost where oil derricks qualify as urban skyline. Now imagine turning to your city's other teams for solace only to find each to be avert-your-eyes abysmal. Welcome to Seattle, home of the Sportspocalypse.

Don't take it from me, though. Here's Sherman Alexie, the brilliant Seattle writer and National Book Award winner, summoning all his powers of eloquence. "It is," he proclaims, "the worst f—— year ever."

Or Owen Good, "Your Guide to Video Gaming's Sportspocalypse 2011", kotaku.com 2/26/2011:

Sportspocalypse. Sportsmageddon. Spörtsnarök? Whatever you want to call it, the coming month is packed with sports video game releases – a seven-way showdown of licensed sports titles in a month that normally sees only two baseball games.

Or Jonathan Mahler, "The Lone Horseman of the Sportspocalype", NYT 6/2/2011, etc., etc.

It's been a few years since -pocalypse joined the long list of "libfix" morphemes — see for example "The half-life of the hashtag", 3/1/2010, reproducing a cartoon in which a members of the mythical Word Hashtag Council says to her colleagues, "Okay, we've used #snowmageddon and #snowpocalypse. So we're down to #snowicane or #snurricane."  And Ben Zimmer, here, dated snowmageddon and snowpocalypse to 2005.

Libfix is the neologism that Arnold Zwicky has suggested for the results of  "the 'liberation' of parts of words … to yield word-forming elements that are semantically like the elements of compounds but are affix-like in that they are typically bound". Arnold's recent inventory of 24 libfix posts is a good start, but misses quite a few, including licious, -apotamus, -lanche — and the whole -mageddon/-pocalypse complex. Across the universe of linguistic commentary, there must be dozens of other discussions — someone should compile a more complete inventory . (And commenters are invited to suggest entries. Note that what's being asked for is NOT a list of new libfix candidates — that's easy, though I suppose also relevant — but rather links to places where such elements have been documented or at least discussed.)

As usual, the libfixation of -pocalypse is no respecter of etymology. The pre-liberation base word, apocalypse, comes from Greek ἀπό "off" + καλύπτειν "to cover", meaning "revelation" (literally "uncovering" or "disclosure").  As a proper noun, Apocalypse refers (as the OED explains) to "The 'revelation' of the future granted to St. John in the isle of Patmos", or "The book of the New Testament in which this is recorded". And because this book describes "the Second Coming of Christ and ultimate destruction of the world", apocalypse has acquired a figurative sense "a disaster resulting in drastic, irreversible damage to human society or the environment, esp. on a global scale; a cataclysm".

Many people now know only this figurative sense — or rather its "weakened use" to describe quite local disasters, as is this OED example:

1980 Bookseller 26 Jan. 316/2   Although most people are saddened by the enforced abandonment of some titles, no one is prepared to interpret it as the publishers' apocalypse.

Or, turning back to sports, this example from Matthew Callan, "The Mets Narratives: Apocalypse or Benny Hill", 6/20/2011:

To the media, a story that does not bode well for the Mets, no matter how flimsy the story's basis, must be true. The question then becomes not to investigate the story, but to create nightmare scenarios and wonder just how apocalyptic and/or hilarious the result will be.

Suprisingly, if anyone has ever used the obvious adjectival derivative "sportspocalyptic", Google is so far unaware of it.

And in general, the extension from -pocalypse to -pocalyptic is spotty at best: idolpocalypse/*idolpocalyptic, weinerpocalypse/*weinerpocalyptic, newtpocalypse/*newtpocalyptic, palinpocalypse/*palinpocalyptic, bushpocalypse/*bushpocalyptic, lebronpocalypse/*lebronpocalyptic, etc.

The only cases I've found so far where -pocalypse has a -pocalyptic counterpart are snowpocalypse/snowpocalyptic and  teapocalypse/teapocalyptic. I leave it to others to determine whether overall frequency is an adequate explanation.

[It's worth noting that politics is a big source of libfix coinages — Mitt Rommey's crop from the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign were discussed here ("Mittmentum", "Mitt-nertia", "Mitt-sheviks", "Mitt-ptonite", "Mittstasis", "Mittsanity", "Mittplosion", etc.).  No doubt there will be more this season.]


  1. Dunx said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 8:42 am

    One coinage from my own group of amateur linguistic investigators (well, we play a lot of word games) that I am very fond of is "apostrolypse" for egregious punctuation errors being a sign of the End Times.

    [(myl) Maybe I'm just over-pocalypsed after writing this post, but why not "apostropocalypse"? Better mouthfeel, IMHO.]

  2. David said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 8:47 am

    Not just -pocalypse but also -calypse is a libfix. There are plenty of hits for "lebroncalypse", for example, and three hits for "bushcalypse". And while there are (apparently, though I know that raw Google results are never to be trusted) thousands of hits for "obamapocalypse", there are also many for "obamacalypse". I have a hunch that "po-dropping" is more likely to occur after polysyllabic prefixes (such as "obama-" and "lebron-").

  3. David Scrimshaw said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 9:25 am

    Let's not forget Snowlocaust

  4. Chris said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 9:30 am

    I think it would be fair to consider "-copter" an instance of this, as in "ROFLcopter".

    [(myl) A good early example, since the etymology is helico+pter — but in that case, the first (?) thing that happened was shortening the word itself to "copter". The first production helicopter in the English-speaking world was the Sikorsky R-4, which went into service in 1942. The OED's earliest citation for 'copter is 1947, but a peek at Google books suggests that Popular Science used the term in 1944, and Boy's Life in 1945. There seem to be some early libfix-type compounds as well — "Hoppi-copter" for example.

    In comparison, pocalypse (though it exists) doesn't seem to be very common — perhaps just because it's not enough shorter than apocalypse?]

  5. GeorgeW said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 9:45 am

    David: Yes, at some point there are too many syllables and some need to be jettisoned. In addition, 'sportspocalypse' has too many consonants clustered for my taste.

  6. yomikoma said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 9:47 am

    Zwicky's list notably lacks "-(a)thon".

    [(amz) A reminder: my posting was not an inventory of libfixes — I said this explicitly — but a list of postings about libfixes.]

  7. John C. said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 10:04 am

    Thought this post was going to be about the new "Weird" Al Yankovic album, which was released today and is titled … you guessed it … "Alpocalypse."

  8. Dan T. said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 10:15 am

    "Alpocalypse" is the situation of being completely out of Alpo dog food.

  9. Arnold Zwicky said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 11:52 am

    Addenda to my list, on my blog.

  10. Kenny Easwaran said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

    I've discovered a lot of hits for "carpocalyptic". I had only heard the word "carpocalypse" (or better, "carmageddon") being used to refer to the upcoming closure of the 405 freeway in LA, but apparently it was also the name of a TV show. I don't think either is the source of the use of the word "carpocalyptic" though, which seems to be primarily used by a single blog in discussing movie scenes that feature lots of cars getting destroyed. At least, that's my guess from the google summaries.

  11. HP said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

    I for one hope there's a future for -narök, especially since it apparently alters the stressed vowel in the root word it attaches to. Let's try it out:





  12. Rube said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

    @Kenny Easwaran:

    i was surprised to discover "carpocalypse" wasn't being used to describe the potential conquest of the Great Lakes by the Asian carp.

    It can only be a matter of time.

  13. цarьchitect said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

    Back during Snowpocalypse 2010, the Russian channel NTV translated the moniker as Снегомагеддон , "snegomaggedon." I don't think "apocalypse" has the same cachet in Russian.

  14. SSH said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 1:32 pm

    I'm not a fan of the neologism "libfix". "Lib" is already an abbreviation in computer science for "library" and is used ubiquitously as a prefix. How about "emancifix"? It would retain the self-referential quality of "libfix" ("emanci-" is not generally a prefix), without all of the software connotations of "lib". Of course, I'm not a professor of linguistics so I guess I can't just create words whenever I feel like it.

  15. The Ridger said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 2:20 pm

    A lot of folks around DC were calling it Snowmaggedon, too. The names dueled for a while.

  16. Rebecca said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 3:55 pm

    @SSH, how about "freefix"?

  17. SSH said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 5:27 pm


    I thought of that, but it sounds too much like something a junkie gets when he stumbles upon the scene of a drug deal gone bad. The problem with prefixing "fix" is that you are trying to prefix it as a suffix, but it's so much more commonly a root that it will be interpreted as one. Also, I don't like the alliteration, and I think it makes one even more inclined to interpret it incorrectly. Maybe my standards are too high? "Libfix" just seems like the name of a library or library-repairing utility and "freefix" a drug term. But then "emancifix" just seems like an awkwardly contrived attempt at circumventing the problems of the other two. Do you have no mercy, language gods?

  18. Ben Hemmens said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 6:15 pm

    Sometimes we open up my daughter's nappy/diaper and there's an apoocalypse waiting to get cleaned up.

  19. maidhc said,

    June 21, 2011 @ 10:33 pm

    How and when did Americans learn about Benny Hill? Some PBS stations used to show him back in the 1980s. But it seems strange for him to turn up now in a story about baseball with the assumption that every baseball-loving American knows who he is. I've noticed it more and more lately.

    Of course, the term "Benny Hill" doesn't refer to his comedy sketches or funny songs, but only to his sped-up chase scenes to the tune of "Yakety Sax".

  20. David Marjanović said,

    June 22, 2011 @ 9:31 am


    Like HP, I love it.

  21. Matt said,

    June 22, 2011 @ 10:21 am

    Just saw an ad for a new sci-fi novel called Robopocalypse, which apparently has received lots of hype since Steven Spielberg signed on to direct a movie adaptation months before the book was even published. The title is already being criticized on the IMDb boards:

    [___]: I hope Spielberg is smart enough to change the title. It's a B movie title. It could play at the drive-ins after "Sharktopus".
    [___]: Good news, they're changing the title to Robodemic.

  22. Bob Violence said,

    June 22, 2011 @ 10:27 am

    (myl) Maybe I'm just over-pocalypsed after writing this post, but why not "apostropocalypse"? Better mouthfeel, IMHO.

    I agree with this, but I think the Metalocalypse guys made the right choice.

  23. John Cowan said,

    June 22, 2011 @ 12:32 pm

    What is it that makes a libfix different from an ordinary combining form in a long-established neoclassical compound? Is it just that it's recent and may not stick, or that it's mostly used expressively, or what?

  24. This Week’s Language Blog Roundup | Wordnik ~ all the words said,

    June 24, 2011 @ 9:43 am

    […] chances are you will (here’s a whole list of book recommendations for you to forget).  In “Whatpocalypse Now?” Mark Liberman at Language Log talks about libfixes, in this case sportspocalypse.  Arnold […]

  25. Alon Lischinsky said,

    July 21, 2011 @ 3:27 am

    @John Cowan: a libfix, unlike a (neo)classical compound, appears as a clipping of an established, often polysyllabic word. It may respect or not the etymological morphological boundaries, but in any case its semantic content comes from a reanalysis of the word and not from the original value of the etymon. The libfix -tacular is a good example, as its meaning has nothing to do with L. spectare.

  26. Fletch Brendan Good said,

    July 27, 2011 @ 6:54 pm

    That's quite a coincidence. Those first two writers that were quoted, Ballard and Good, were classmates in journalism school, and are very close friends to this day. Owen Good (my brother) says he did not pick up the word from Ballard, as "it's a simple construction".

RSS feed for comments on this post