Everything You Ever Wanted to Know, About the Word Portmanteau


Ever since I used the word Portmanteau in my post about Folksonomies, I have noticed that a lot of searches have been directed to my blog of people searching how to pronounce portmanteau. The written pronunciation is somewhat hard to figure out so I found this from Yahoo! Education that has the audio pronunciation. Just click on the little speaker symbol next to the word. Essentially, it is pronounced: port MAN toe.

And while I didn’t delve into the word much in my last post, it made me curious so I decided give it a closer look. From Interesting Thing of the Day, I found this very informative post on Portmanteau. Here are some excerpts.

Lewis Carroll was particularly fond of blends, and he used them extensively—especially in his poem “Jabberwocky.” In Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, Lewis Carroll coined a term for his special variety of blends: portmanteau. Humpty Dumpty says, “Well, slithy means lithe and slimy…You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.” The “portmanteau” Carroll was referring to is a type of suitcase that’s hinged in the middle and opens into two equal parts; it comes from the French word porter (“to carry”) + manteau (“coat”).

You may sometimes hear portmanteau words referred to descriptively (if somewhat inelegantly) as frankenwords. Some other well-known examples include chortle (“chuckle” + “snort”), guesstimate, infomercial, edutainment, and televangelist. And even some well-known verbal blunders are cases of portmanteau (misunderestimate, anyone?).

To read some fine original examples of portmanteau, read Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.

And here is another very interesting post called Through the Blender from World Wide Words. More tidbits from their site:

A blend is any word which is formed by fusing together elements from two other words and whose meaning shares or combines the meanings of the source words. The elements are normally the beginning of one and the end of the other. An example is Oxbridge, which is formed by putting together the first part of Oxford and the last part of Cambridge to form a new inclusive term for both universities (Camford also exists, but it’s much less common). An older term for the result of this technique is portmanteau word, which was coined by Lewis Carroll in Alice Through the Looking Glass in 1872.

Though many of Carroll’s inventions didn’t survive, a couple have become part of the language: galumph (gallop + triumph), and chortle (chuckle + snort). His term mimsy (flimsy + miserable) already existed in the language, but his re-definition of it certainly affected the sense.

A few such terms existed before Carroll made his inspired series of inventions: anecdotage (anecdote combined with dotage to suggest a garrulous old age, first recorded in 1823); squirl (a blend of squiggle and whirl to describe a flourish, as in handwriting, from 1843); snivelization, coined by Herman Melville in 1849 from snivel and civilisation as a term for “civilisation considered derisively as a cause of anxiety or plaintiveness”; squdge (squash + pudge) dates from 1870. Some writers have suggested that there may be older examples in the language: for example, bash may be a blend of bang and smash and clash of clang and crash, but most of the candidate words are so ancient that their origins are obscure.

It is very noticeable that a fashion for such formations began in the 1890s, perhaps influenced by Carroll, though this could equally well be accounted for by other factors leading to an increased rate of word formation. As examples: electrocute (a blend of electricity and execute) first appeared in 1889; prissy (blending prim and sissy) was coined about 1895; brunch (breakfast taken nearly at lunchtime), first recorded in 1896; travelogue (travel + monologue), 1903; mingy (mean and stingy), from 1911; scientifiction (invented by Hugo Gernsback in 1916 as a blend of science and fiction, thankfully now obsolete); motel (a motor hotel, originally a trade name from 1925); sexpert (an expert on sex, 1924); sexational (sex + sensational, 1925); ambisextrous (a coinage from ambidextrous and sex dating from 1929 which has achieved a modest continuing circulation); Jacobethan (Jacobean + Elizabethan, invented by John Betjeman in 1933); guesstimate (guess + estimate, dating from 1936); sexploitation (the exploitation of sex in films, first used about 1942 and which was the model for blaxploitation in the early seventies).

The media, advertising and show business have been responsible for an especially large crop: advertorial (an advertisement written as though it were an editorial); docutainment (a documentary written as entertainment, with variable felicity concerning actual events), which is also known as a dramadoc, from dramatised documentary, though this is a clipped compound, not a blend); an infomercial is a television commercial in the form of an information announcement; infotainment is a blend, in reality as well as etymology, of information and entertainment; a magalogue is a cross between a magazine and a catalogue; a televangelist is a television evangelist. From the entertainment field we have animatronics (a blend of animated and electronics), camcorder (camera + recorder), rockumentary (a rock documentary) and, for a while in Britain, squarial (a square aerial, used to receive satellite television signals). There have been a number of facetitious blends based on the long-standing litterati: the glitterati are glittering show-biz stars; the soccerati are soccer stars and their celebrity supporters; the digerati are the computing elite leading the information technology revolution; the ligerati is the group which turns up at all the best parties without going through the formality of being invited (based on lig, a dialect term meaning “to idle or lie about” which became fashionable in British media circles in the eighties in the sense of “freeload” or “gatecrash”) — again, it can be argued that –ati has turned into a plural suffix and that recent coinages should be called compounds rather than blends.

They have many more examples of blends (portmanteaus) in their article, which is well worth the read.

~Susan Mellott

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