- Some people call me the space cowboy.
- Yeah! Some call me the gangster of love.
- Some people call me Maurice,
- 'Cause I speak of the pompatus of love.
The phrases "space cowboy", "gangster of love" and "Maurice" are all references to previous Miller songs. The "pompatus" line is also a reference to an earlier song of his, "Enter Maurice", which was recorded the previous year:
- My dearest darling, come closer to Maurice
- so I can whisper sweet words of epismetology
- in your ear and speak to you of the pompatus of love.
Although Miller claims he invented the words "epismetology" (metathesis of epistemology) and "pompatus", all of his song-writing demonstrates strong doowop influences, and a 1954 song called "The Letter" by the Medallions had the lines:
- Oh my darling, let me whisper
- sweet words of pizmotality
- and discuss the puppetutes of love.
The song was composed by Vernon Green as a description of his dream woman. "Pizmotality described words of such secrecy that they could only be spoken to the one you loved", Green explained. He coined the term puppetutes "to mean a secret paper-doll fantasy figure who would be my everything and bear my children".
In the Latin language, pompatus is an actual word meaning "done with pomp or splendor". It is the masculine perfect participle of the Latin root word pompo. However, it is stressed on the second syllable, whereas the nonce word is stressed on the first.
Pompatus in pop culture
The word pompatus has, because of its peculiarity and seemingly nonsensical usage, become a minor pop culture trivia icon. Wolfman Jack frequently referenced the phrase and there is a sound clip of him using the line within the song "Clap for the Wolfman" by The Guess Who. A 1996 movie titled The Pompatus of Love starring Jon Cryer featured four men discussing a number of assorted topics, including attempts to determine the meaning of the phrase. The line has been mentioned in various television show gags, including The Simpsons and South Park. It was the subject of the October 9, 2011 Over the Hedge comic strip.
Humor columnist Dave Barry frequently refers to the song line as a source of comedic value, particularly in his 1997 book Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs. 'Pompatus' is used by Michael Ondaatje in his 2001 book Anil's Ghost. Stephen King uses the word in his 2006 novel Lisey's Story. Tim Dorsey uses the word in his 2010 novel, Gator a-Go-Go.
- Adams, Cecil. 'In Steve Miller's "The Joker," what is "the pompatus of love"?', The Straight Dope, 1996.
- The Pompatus of Love at the Internet Movie Database
- "The Joker" lyrics and biography at the Tokezone