Monday, December 31, 2007


Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) posted about a term he learned from his in-laws: double-bagging. His story about what it means in this context is cute, but you can read about it at his blog. What I find interesting is the use of an ordinary term typically referring to using two bags instead of one for groceries (as reinforcement) for the unusual situation involving the dog Millie. Like most linguists, I was required to study some historical linguistics and socio-linguistics involving language change. My memory is fuzzy, but I recall vaguely that there are models of neologism formation that account for the various ways an existing term gets transferred to a new domain.

What's interesting to me about "double-bagging" is that the salient part of the term is the instrument, not the action, because the only thing the two uses share is the need for two bags. The way in which the two bags get used in each situation is, in fact, quite different. So, rather than foregrounding the similarity of the situations (the way metaphor might), this is a case where two unrelated situations happen to share an instrument in common and it is the instrument which forms the neologism. I wonder if instruments in general lend themselves to this kind of linguistic process? Are there other cases where two dissimilar situations share an instrument (used in different ways) but have the instrument form a neologism?


Moses said...

There is yet a third meaning of the term.

In UK slang, a "double-bagger" is a prospective sexual partner of such ugliness that one requires them to wear two brown-paper bags upon their heads during intercourse, in case one of the bags rips.

Its' something similar to a "two-o-clocker" - a partner picked up just before the clubs close, when one is presumably drunk and when there's no chance of getting anyone prettier.


Anonymous said...


Chris said...

Moses, interesting example. In this case, it bears slightly more resemblance to the grocery use, doesn't it? In essence, the partner is so ugly that a second bag is needed for reinforcement, just like in the grocery frame, the groceries are so heavy a second bag is needed.

I wonder what the gender dynamics of this term are? My intuition is that this is common for a hetero man to say of a woman, but would a woman say this of a male partner? Would a gay man/woman say this of a partner?

There is a famous linguistics article on "ugly names" by L. Sutton called "Bitches and Skanky Hobags". It's a tad dated now, but still well worth the read:

Gender Articulated (Google Books)

xMoses said...

Yes, the usage is one of reinforcement so it's similar in intention.

On the gender side, I have heard the term being used by women, of men, and as an insulting term for other women. I don't know about gay usage.

I skimmed the free section of the article by Sutton. There's an interesting reverse phenomenon that 's detectable, by which terms of approbation are becoming more approving. Thus "tart", which once was purely insulting, can be used as a compliment. Similarly, sometimes, with "slapper". It may be due to British womens' changing attitudes to sex, but I'm probably too old & staid to really understand teen-twenties slang and usage.