Last week John Cook at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer asked:
What is it with the word ‘dango’ and internet companies?.
Now, a former Microsoft project manager is rolling out a new site called GodDango, which he hopes will become a central gathering spot for the “spiritually curious.”
This is a good question. Though duty compels The Name Inspector to pick one nit: dango is not a word. It seems to have become what linguists sometimes call a cranberry morpheme.
So what in tarnation is a cranberry morpheme? Basically, it’s what you get if you chop a meaningful part off a word and there’s a meaningless part left. If you take the word cranberry and chop off berry, you’re left with cran. That’s a cranberry morpheme. That cran chunk seems like it should mean something, because it’s kind of like the blue in blueberry, the goose in gooseberry, or the cloud in cloudberry. But it doesn’t. It just distinguishes cranberries from other types of berry. Cranberry morphemes can often be traced back to meaningful elements etymologically, but are not meaningful for contemporary speakers. Or at least, not at first.
What makes -dango a cranberry morpheme? As WordzGuy observed back in January 2006, with Benjamin Zimmer following up in Language Log, the recent use of -dango seems to have started with the name Fandango, for the internet movie ticket service. Fandango is a type of punning company name based on a real word that bears little relation to the company in question, but that happens to contain a smaller word that is related. Fandango is the name of a dance, but it contains the word fan, as in movie fan. When you chop off fan, you’re left with dango.
If people are able to agree on a meaning to assign to a cranberry morpheme, it can be used to form new words. We now have cran-apple and cran-grape juices as well as cranberry juice, so cran by itself has come to stand for the flavor of cranberry.
Now something similar is happening with dango. WordzGuy identified flame-dango and Jobdango as examples of novel uses of the -dango ending of the word fandango. Benjamin Zimmer added to those fundango and blogdango. Now we have Zoodango and, heaven help us, GodDango to add to the list. It’s not clear that -dango has a consistent meaning in all these. In the company names Jobdango, Zoodango, and GodDango, The Name Inspector assumes that -dango simply means ‘innovative commercial website’.