What Is A Portmanteau?

What Is A Portmanteau?

What is a portmanteau in grammar?

When I formed my publishing company (Portmanteau Press LLC), I was shocked and appalled that I received the following question from numerous people (my CPA, the lady at the bank, my mother!): what is a portmanteau? Now, I feel the need to educate people about this wonderful language device. Being that Derek’s blog is called “Vandalism of Words,” I felt this was an appropriate forum.

A portmanteau, in short, is when you take two words and squish them together to form a new word. For example, you have a meal that is halfway between breakfast and lunch? Brunch. You have an eating utensil that is a cross between a spoon and a fork? Spork. Very simple and easy to understand. But why is it called a portmanteau?

You can thank Lewis Carroll, one of my inspirations as a writer. A portmanteau, in English practice, was just a suitcase. It is, itself, a French portmanteau of the words porter (to carry) and manteau (a cloak or mantel). Carroll used the word in Through the Looking-Glass to explain some of his adjectives that described the Jaberwocky. Slithy combines lithe and slimy. Mimsy combines flimsy and miserable.

Modern media has taken portmanteaus to a level that is absolutely atrocious: celebrity name-combining. Brangelina (Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie) and Bennifer (Ben Affleck/Jennifer Lopez) are not clever portmanteaus. They are abominations and slights to clever wordplay masters that use the device properly. I cringe every time I hear one of these celebrity name portmanteaus and get a strong urge to kick a small animal (I resist!).

There are tons of words that are used in the English language now that many people probably do not even realize are portmanteaus: motel (motor/hotel), smog (smoke/fog), squiggle (squirm/wiggle), and gerrymander (Elbridge Gerry/salamandar). At the end of the day, I would guess that most people use a portmanteau word at least once or twice daily and do not even know what it is they are using.

Spread the word. Don’t let this lack of understanding continue. In closing, I have a question for you, dear reader: what is your favorite portmanteau word?

Today’s guest blogger: Jeremy Rodden. Author of Toonopolis Files.

Author of Toonopolis Files: www.toonopolis.com
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/toonopolis
On Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/dp/0615457215/

21 thoughts on “What Is A Portmanteau?”

  1. Akhen1khan2 aka Jack Eason

    How about Dohickey or thingamabob. Nah , not really, just kidding lol :)

  2. Aw, no, those are just pure nonsense words! How about a real portmanteau? My favorite is, obviously, Toonopolis (cartoon/metropolis). :)

  3. Sherri McLain

    How about broccoflower? Is has the best of both veggies, sort of rolled into one.

  4. Jeremy Rodden

    @Sherri: I didn't know broccoflower was a real thing. Is it like a cross-breed or something?

    @Calophi: Pixel is a really nice one. Skort? Well, at least you didn't go with jeggings…

  5. Photojournalist; Some of my favorite Twitter terms from Mashable.com dweet: tweet sent while intoxicated {that which I am certain Derek has never done!}, sweeple: sweet twitter people, twaffic: Twitter traffic,tweepish: feeling sheepish or regretful about something you tweeted {probably following a "dweet"} twiking: biking while twittering via text.tweetaholic: someone addicted to Twitter, so much so that it may be an actual problem, {Hey don't look at me; I have it completely under control!}

  6. Jeremy Rodden

    @Anne: The Internet has been an awesome breeding ground for some kickass portmanteaus. :) How about podiocast? It's a triple-portmanteau of iPod/audio/broadcast, the last of which is a compound word.


  7. I didn't know where gerrymandering came from – I had to look it up. Thanks for the article.

  8. Jeremy Rodden

    I love learning about the etymologies of words. That's got to be one of my top 10 favorite portmanteaus. :)

  9. TomKat (Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes)… Just kidding! :)

    Nicely entertaining and informative post. My favorite?

    Hmmm,podcast (ipod/broadcast) maybe? Though I'm awfully fond of 'slithy'…

  10. How about this; a Mockumentary shot with a camcorder about two guys who have a fantabulous bromance & live in a ginormous motel room & carry murses. They are mathletes & speak Spangilsh for fun. While simulcasting & eating tangelo's on their way to jazzercise in their jeggings; they get carjacked by a frenemy who has moobs & rides a moped. It was on the Newscast following a sexpert & a commercial for pizzone's…. I could just go on procrasturbating about this forever!

  11. @Ganymeder: Slithy is a good one. Hard to try to top the man that coined the term portmanteau in the first place! :)

    @Anne: +10 internets to you.

  12. moondustwriter

    Hmm it would have to be Moondustwriter
    I'm just thrilled you have a publishing company Derek
    Have at it

  13. Not me Moondustwriter! It's my guest blogger Jeremy Rodden. Now you'll have to add another sprinkle of moondust and congratulate him on his achievement. :)

  14. Patrick Neylan

    “Podcast” is a common, simple and effective one. “Webinar”, on the other hand is so wretchedly ugly it makes me cringe.

  15. Funny, I thought originally you were referring to a bag or wallet.
    Never heard of the term used to describe 2 merged concepts.
    At least the original term hasn’t been totally destroyed.

  16. Summer School Jobs

    Never heard the term Portmanteau before, but realised I make up my own all the time for fun!


  17. I try to create my own when advertising my books, not only to get attention but also to meet 100-character limits in Amazon ads. The problem is that Amazon thinks it’s a misspelled word and rejects the ad until I change it. I tried “edu-tech” for educational and technological, and they rejected it. :(

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