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The last surviving female tigon, Rangini, stares at a visitor in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta. (Jayanata Shaw/Reuters)
The last surviving female tigon, Rangini, stares at a visitor in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta. (Jayanata Shaw/Reuters)

Warren Clements: Word Play

Tigons, and other hybrid words, are the children of magical creatures Add to ...

A March 3 article about the Samsung Galaxy Note, a cross between a phone and a tablet, stated: “Predictably, many are calling it a ‘phablet.’”

The word satisfies the philological definition of a hybrid. It combines words from two different languages, in the same way that television does (tele, Greek for far off; visio, Latin for something seen, from videre, to see). Phone derives from the Greek phone, sound. Tablet derives from the Latin tabula, table.

More Word Play from Warren Clements

The word hybrid itself is not a hybrid, but the Latin word it derives from, hybrida, referred to the offspring of a wild boar and a tame sow. Another hybrid is the liger, which in my innocence I assumed to be the offspring of any lion and tiger.

The Xinhua News Agency dispelled that notion with an article on Feb. 28. “A newborn tigon,” it said, “was thrust into the spotlight in a wildlife park in eastern Jiangsu province Tuesday.”

The tigon is a hybrid of a male tiger and a female lion, and is less common than the liger, a hybrid of a male lion and a female tiger. For all the tigon’s rarity, the first citation of that word in the Oxford English Dictionary dates from 1927, while the first citation of a liger dates from 1938. A cross between a tiger and a stuffed toy is, according to The House at Pooh Corner, a Tigger, and dates from 1928.

Speculation that Iceland might adopt the Canadian dollar rather than keep its struggling krona does not envision a hybrid. But a cross between a loonie and a krona would be fascinating. A kroonie might sing with the mellifluous tones of Michael Bublé or Harry Connick Jr. A lona would be described by neighbours as a quiet currency that always kept to itself.

Mangled phrases are hybrids of a sort, the unintended progeny of a fling between the correct and the fanciful. To dot the i’s and cross the t’s means to be meticulous in completing a project. The Orillia Times & Packet in Ontario quoted the manager of a waste-recovery business last October as saying, “We have all winter now to dot the t’s and cross the i’s.” The Hollywood Reporter last July quoted television analyst Nancy Grace as saying, of a jury’s decision, “I think when it came down to it they didn’t come up with a verdict of guilty because there were too many things and too many obstacles that said I can’t cross the i’s and dot the t’s.”

The latter variation put me in mind of the mythical beast Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear, a famously garbled version of “Gladly, the cross I’ll bear” from the hymn Keep Thou My Way.

Some words are just garbles waiting to happen. Take the popular British series Downton Abbey, in which Maggie Smith and other actors move upstairs and downstairs in elaborate costumes. It requires a concentration of will not to write “Downtown Abbey.” Inevitably, journalists have succumbed.

“Why We’re Hooked on Downtown Abbey,” the Philadelphia Daily News wrote on Feb. 17. The New York Daily News made the same mistake on the same day. The Windsor Star got it right several times in a Feb. 15 article and stumbled in a photo caption: “Hugh Bonneville plays Lord Grantham and Penelope Wilton is Isobel Crawley in Downtown Abbey.”

Reader Brendan O’Byrne, who sent in a clipping of yet another instance, appended this note: “I can hear Dame Maggie ask, ‘What is a downtown?’”

Finally, punsters have been merciless with the name of the New York Knicks’ Jeremy Lin. Someone even applied for a trademark on “linsanity,” the word for the commotion surrounding Lin’s overnight basketball celebrityhood.

I’m waiting for Lin to wrap himself in a Mexican shawl and run for the office of Alaskan governor as Serape Lin.

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