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Rama lama what?

One of the treats of researching a book about New England neon is finding the unexpected connections between signs — sometimes across state lines. Take, for example, the recurrence of signs ending in -orama. (Or occasionally -arama.)

Photo of Bowl-O-Rama neon sign

The family-run Bowl-O-Rama is in Newington, Connecticut.

The phrase seemed to crop up most on mid-century signs, but I started to wonder about its origins. (I was an undergraduate linguistics major and once aspired to work at Merriam-Webster.)

Neon sign for Wein-O-Rama

The deliciously named Wein-O-Rama has been serving up hot wieners in Cranston, Rhode Island, since 1962.

Here’s what I learned. The –orama words are based on words like panorama. Coined in the eighteenth century, panorama is constructed from two Greek words: pan, meaning “all” and horama, meaning “sight” or “view.”

Other related words entered the English lexicon over the years, including cyclorama and diorama, but the rise of the –oramas really tracked the growth of the movies. The term showed up on movie posters from the late 1920s (“a howling funorama”), but the –oramas really took hold in the 1950s. This was the era of Cinerama and Smell-O-Rama, and even the experts at Merriam-Webster give –orama an indulgent thumbs-up:

One of the enjoyable aspects of a combining form such as -orama is that you can attach it to pretty much any noun you’d like, without having to worry about whether the resulting word will pass muster, or even make sense.

Which brings us to neon. In Chelmsford, Massachusetts, I encountered Care Cleaners with its roof-mounted neon spelling out Laundarama. York Beach, Maine, had a non-neon Fun O Rama. Callahan’s Bowl-O-Rama is outside Hartford, Connecticut; a bowling ball serves as the O.  And my favorite: Wein-O-Rama in Cranston, Rhode Island.

Neonorama, anyone?

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