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My bae asked me about the meaning of mom-pkin in the book she's reading. I'm stunned and google searching produced but acronyms and chemical stuff. The full sentence is as follows.

She still had ninety minutes before she turned back into a mom-pkin. With a flirty toss of her head, she threw back the last of her drink and smiled at Lee.

Does it actually mean anything in general? As far she could tell, there's no specific property in the regarded person that she could point to as a possible meaning. Is it something like getting from a girly, frivolous type and back to a mom'ish, responsible one? What on Earth is the pkin suffix?

Additional definition: bae (or possibly BAE, as it's an acronym, stands for Before Anyone Else). This information's been added because many people asked about what it means.

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    Great question! I imagine that for most native speakers the -pkin portion (from turn into a pumpkin) will be easier to understand. Explaining the mom part, well, an answer probably can guess, but it'd be easier with more context. Could you tell us where this quote is from? – snailboat Sep 17 '17 at 10:47
  • @snailplane All I Ever Wanted by Lucy Dillon – Konrad Viltersten Sep 17 '17 at 15:47
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    "My bae"? - who? – Therkel Sep 19 '17 at 16:41
  • @Therkel Does it matter who she is? I just wrote bae instead of significant other or live-in girlfriend for convenience's sake. It could as well say someone who isn't a registered member of ELL nor has a feasible ability to become one but it'd be cumbersome. – Konrad Viltersten Sep 20 '17 at 6:22
  • Sorry, no, it does not matter. I had never come across the word before so I was just curious. Thanks for the clarification, though. – Therkel Sep 20 '17 at 7:42
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In the popular Cinderella fairy tale, a fairy turns the poor and dirty Cinderella into a princess and a pumpkin into the carriage that will get her to the party she wants to attend.

The spell, however, has a time limit: it will end at midnight.

What happens then is that the carriage turns back into a pumpkin.

The word mom-pkin is a wordplay on the original story. The mom will turn back into a regular, boring mom once the time limit (90 minutes) has passed. So, the author thought that the Cinderella fairy tale was famous enough to take the same sentence and change pum into the similar-sounding mom, turning a pumpkin into a mompkin (which is not a real word).

The hyphen just makes it easier to spot the intent of the substitution. It serves a visual cue and it carries no grammatical meaning.

  • While similar to another existing answer, I tried to explain the wordplay and the similarities between the situations more toroughly. – Zachiel Sep 17 '17 at 14:24
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    +1 for "the dash just makes it easier to spot the intent of the substitution". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 17 '17 at 14:39
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    Since the OP tried to look it up in a thesaurus, I think it's also worth noting that the word is not real. It's implied above, but not totally explicit. – Ringo Sep 17 '17 at 16:45
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    Since the author appears to be British, I wonder if the original text was mumpkin - a native Br.E reader might have appreciated the substitution without the (rather forced, IMHO) hyphen cue? – steeldriver Sep 18 '17 at 14:32
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    Funny anecdote about this phrase being used in weird ways: People at my workplace will say "John is about to turn into a pumpkin" to mean John (or whomever is named) has a meeting they have to leave for really soon so we have to wrap things up. – Kat Sep 18 '17 at 21:33
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In storytelling contexts, the words turned back into a will be, nine times out of ten, an allusion to the fairy tale known as Cinderella.

If you do an ngram search for turned back into a *, pumpkin is very high on the list. At the stroke of midnight, the magical carriage in that tale turns back into the pumpkin from which it is made. The heroine is partying at a ball at the castle, where she hopes to encounter her Prince Charming. She too will transform, back into a drudge.

The suffix of pumpkin is actually -kin. It is a diminutive. {noun}-kin is a "little" {noun}. NOTE: pkin is not a bona-fide morphological suffix here but simply an allusion to the spelling of the word pumpkin, so that the word pumpkin will come to mind, and summon up the Cinderella story where, at the stroke of midnight, the female heroine's magical carriage turns back into a pumpkin and she herself turns from party-girl back into drudge.

P.S. Since @Lawrence asks "If pumpkin is the little guy, what's the big version :)"

If I were to answer Lawrence's jest, I'd say the big guy is occupied by Peter Pumpkin-Eater's wife. But seriously, diminutives can express both appreciation (tenderness, affection) and depreciation (irony, disparagement, derision—the idea that something is inferior). The pumpkin was regarded as fodder and as a rather crude food for humans, or as food for rather crude humans.

I should add that it is not always clear to native speakers that -kin is a diminutive. For example, a "manikin", a shop-window display dummy, is more-or-less life-size (though usually not realistically so), and few native speakers recognize the -kin as a diminutive there. Though since the dummy is only a dummy, no more than a basic human shape, often lacking hands and feet, the diminutive could be understood to mean "a lesser human", "a mere human shape". More importantly, unlike cognate -chen in German, -kin is not very productive in Modern English; that is to say, relatively few words get formed with it.

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    @Mv Log: I think you're being too literal-minded. Allusion doesn't have to establish a perfect correspondence: a:b :: c:d in all details. Allusion can simply evoke a context which is generally applicable to the narrated situation. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 17 '17 at 11:37
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    @MvLog You can call it a bad metaphor if you like, but the key point is that people do use it that way, and the goal here is to understand the patterns in how people use language. – snailboat Sep 17 '17 at 11:44
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    The first half of this answer is solid, but the discussion of the -kin suffix distracting and irrelevant. The author of the original text is not using a suffix; "mom-pkin" is a portmanteau of "mom" and "pumpkin". – Xerxes Sep 17 '17 at 15:46
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    Your digression on "-kin" could be misconstrued as claiming the original quote suggests the sentence's subject will become a diminutive, lesser, or endeared mom. "-kin" may be relevant to the etymology of "pumpkin" itself, but the only purpose of the letters "-pkin" in this sentence is to suggest the word "pumpkin" as a whole. – aschepler Sep 17 '17 at 23:04
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    @MvLog It might not make a lot of sense, but the idiom "turn into a pumpkin" is in fact often applied to people. At a party, I'll often hear someone say something like "I'd better get home before I turn into a pumpkin." – aschepler Sep 17 '17 at 23:06

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