octumom /’ɒktəmɒm/

The world of celebrities is something of a parallel universe: “we” don’t live in it but “they” do, and via TV, movies, magazines, and the internet, we get to peer in like visitors to the zoo.

This is, of course, unless you become a reality celebrity. These are folks who, willingly or unwillingly, get to cross the boundary and become part of that alternative world.

One such new resident is Nadya Sulaiman/Suleman (the spelling varies), a California mother who recently gave birth to octuplets after In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Unless you live under a rock, there’s little need for me to talk about the controversy that lead to her becoming famous, but what fascinates me is her new nickname: octumom.

I’m opting for octumom rather than the more popular octomom because I believe it’s more accurate. As a portmanteau of octuplets and mom, octumom makes sense. Using octo- as a prefix suggest “eight-somethings” and she certainly is not eight moms. Using octu- is much more indicative of its origin in octuplets.

It’s made harder because the pronunciation of that second vowel is unstressed and becomes a scwah – an unstressed, neutral vowel that sounds like “uh.” So both octomom and octumom end up being pronounced as “octuhmom.”

Phonetic symbol for Schwa

Phonetic symbol for Schwa

I may be on a hiding to nothing here. Although CNN agrees with me on using octumom, a quick google reveals that octomom gets 1,600,000 hits whereas octumom gets a paltry 105,000 hits. So, the vox populi is against me. On the other hand, the majority are not always right.

Still, I’ll go with my choice until someone convince me otherwise. As if it really matters anyway!

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2 Comments

Filed under Etymology

2 responses to “octumom /’ɒktəmɒm/

  1. Katie

    I was horrified when I saw the word ‘Octumom’ on CNN. It just looked so wrong to me. I stumbled across your post while doing some research on whether there was any justification for using ‘Octu’ instead of ‘Octo’. You’ve swayed my opinion at least a little, but I think I’ll need to see a more in-depth analysis of this before I’ll completely believe that it should be ‘Octu’ 😀 You’re the Word Guy, so for now I’ll take your word for it!

  2. russellcross

    Katie, this is one of those cases where groups of linguists will attend symposia (literally “drinking sessions”) and gesticulate wildly while shouting.

    I checked out Google for “sextumom” versus “sextomom” and found the latter a clear winner. That’s a strike against me. However, I looked at the top articles with “sextomom” as a word and found they ALL were referring to a comparison with “octomom” Sulaiman, so the “sexto-” is actually used as an analog of the “octomom!”

    Curiouser and curiouser.

    So I then dredged up some other portmanteau words such as “docudrama,” “edutainment,” and “infomercial,” whose derivations are: “documentary” + “drama”; “education” + “entertainment”; and “information” + “commercial.”

    Note that in all these, the initial portion does not change the vowel – they stay as “docu-,” “edu-,” and “info-.” In the same way, you would expect “octuplet” and “mommy” to become “octumom.”

    If it were a totally new word, and not a portmanteau, you could make the case for “octamom,” which would be true to the Greek root of ὀκτά – a more frequent variation on οκτώ.

    But I stick to the portmanteau theory and so “octumom” it is.

    I really should go and get a life 😉

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