One Word: Portmanteau

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A portmanteau is a word formed by combining meaning and partial sounds from at least two other words.

Obvious example: smog. A mixture of smoke and fog, the word combines sounds from each.

Portmanteau

A portmanteau differs from a compound, which combines two complete words. Thus “motorhome” is a compound; “motel – meaning “motor hotel” – is a portmanteau.

It’s sometimes called a “portmanteau word”. I prefer this, since “portmanteau” by itself also means (originally, and literally) a trunk or suitcase with two compartments.

In its current sense of a composite word, “portmanteau” was coined by Lewis Carroll in his book Through the Looking Glass (1871). There, Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice some of the odd words in the poem Jabberwocky. “Slithy” is “lithe and slimy”; “mimsy” is “miserable and flimsy”.

“You see” (says Humpty) “it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.”

One of my favorite portmanteau words is “spork”. That’s of course the melding of a spoon and a fork into a single utensil, along with their sounds into a single word.

What are some of your favorite portmanteaus?

(This article is part of my series on words that are #worth1000pictures.)


Comments

One Word: Portmanteau — 11 Comments

  1. Did you notice if you closed your eyes and said portmanteau it sounds like portman (or porter) tow (as in suitcase)?

    • No, but that’s a great observation. It’s not entirely accidental, either.

      The original word (the one referring to luggage) is French, from “porter” (carry) and “manteau” (mantle — in the sense of cloak). It referred to a court official who carried a prince’s cloak, and came by extension to refer to the bag or case in which the cloak was carried. So a portmanteau was, in fact, something that a porter towed. I suppose the “teau” rhyming sound is coincidental, but the overall structure is not.

  2. Rather than submit a portmanteau, I beg for one to be created; that is, the afternoon equivalent of brunch. I for one sometimes put off lunch until it’s so late that it becomes early supper (dinner to you yankees). But lupper, linner, sunch and dunch just don’t sound all that tasty.

    • Wonderful idea, Linda. Your comment deserves its own article, which I’ve posted here:
      http://garymatthews.com/2016/08/mailbag-portmanteau-words/

      Here’s what I wrote there:

      Great points all, Linda. Clearly we need such a word!

      My thoughts:

      (1) My vote goes to “linner”. I think we’d quickly get used to it, after which it would sound just as appetizing as brunch!

      (2) It’s my guess that when “brunch” first was coined, it didn’t sound “all that tasty” either. We just became accustomed to it, after hearing it for a while.

      (3) Apparently there are others who already prefer “linner”: On various websites where folks discuss these alternatives, some commenters report hearing that word more and more. This strictly anecdotal evidence (from my extremely limited sampling) suggests to me that it’s gaining at least some currency.

      (4) That said, there are entries at UrbanDictionary.com for “lupper”, “linner”, and “dunch”. So they’re all being used, to some extent, in slang. They all seem to refer to a meal between lunchtime and dinnertime, one that may or may not take the place of either or both.

      (5) Of these three, the only one listed at all in Wictionary.com is “dunch”. Its primary meaning, however, seems to be a kind of jab or kick. Only in a secondary sense is it defined as a late lunch-early dinner.

      (6) “Sunch” already is taken, and with distinctly sexual meanings. I say “meanings” (plural) because UrbanDictionary.com lists it twice – once as a standalone word, and again as part of a longer phrase. The former strikes me as bland, compared to many “hot topics” they already bandy about on TV shows like “The View”. The latter probably belongs in the better-not-to-know category!

      (7) Some have proposed alternatives such as “luner” (lunch-dinner) and “betwinner” (between lunch and dinner). But the former sounds too much like “lunar” while the latter looks too much like “bet winner”. I’m tempted to suggest “dutch”, but that is too easily confused with “going dutch” or “dutch treat”. (Or “dutch chocolate”, which suggests dessert rather than a regular meal.)

      The word you’re seeking, Linda, we do indeed need. Let’s hope a clear winner emerges.

      • Indeed! To your suggestions (and Linda’s) may I add plunch, splunch, and spunch?

        Of these, I’d prefer “spunch” as it seems most closely to follow the structure of “brunch”. It takes the “s” and “p” sounds from supper, combining them with the “unch” from lunch. It also avoids including a whole word (lunch). The whole-word inclusion doesn’t keep something from being a portmanteau, as it would if all the words were whole. But it’s best avoided.

        To my ear, “suppunch” sounds a bit too much like “sucker punch”. “Spunch” seems to avoid that problem. I could imagine myself telling a friend, “My meal schedule was so off-kilter today, I could only manage brunch and spunch.”

  3. You mentioned spork, so may be you will like chork that will be handed out by Panda Express soon (or perhaps already is). Chork = Ch(opstick + f)ork as you probably guessed.
    There are Bennifer, Brangelina and TomKat… 1 & 3 are no longer couples though.

    • Great point, Janelle. It isn’t a portmanteau word, but it serves the purpose insofar as it’s a valid descriptive label.

      Linda, however, wants a portmanteau that would correspond to “brunch”. At the moment there seems to be no universally accepted one. It’s something that would be welcomed by those of us who love symmetry!

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