P is for Portmanteau

A portmanteau word is a word that’s made up of 2 other words; for instance, motel from motor hotel, smog from smoke and fog, brunch between breakfast and lunch, chortle from chuckle and snort, malware from malicious software, or the previously mentioned gerrymander. Here are more portmanteau words.

From JEOPARDY! in 2001: “Lewis Carroll coined the term ‘portmanteau word’, explaining how “slithy” combines these 2 words.” The question was slimy and lithe, which I didn’t get, and neither did any of the show’s contestants. Here are some easier ones from November 2011; questions at the end:

*This 9-letter word for a procession of cars is often used to refer to that of the U.S. president
*It’s the trademark name for the device used by police to measure a driver’s alcohol intake
*It’s the code of online social behavior
*It’s the smallest element of an image on a computer monitor
*This word refers to the visible path in the wake of an aircraft

As the Wikipedia notes, “A portmanteau word typically combines both sounds and meanings.” It defines the word Wikipedia as a portmanteau, since “it combines the word ‘wiki’ with the word ‘encyclopedia’.”

Lots of place names are portmanteau words: Texarkana on the Texas-Arkansas border; Tanzania is the joining of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, e.g.

It seems that portmanteaux are becoming more popular:
Chief ACTA Eurocrat quits in disgust at lack of democratic fundamentals in global copyright treaty – Eurocrat from European bureaucrat
Fracktivists from hydrofracking (itself a portmanteau) and activists.
Mutterance – from muttering utterance

There are even portmanteau generators out there. The roots of a good portmanteau should be clear, even if it’s newly minted.

One of the more unfortunate trends in portmanteau is called name-meshing, which comes when two famous people’s names get merged, such as Billary (Bill and Hillary Clinton), Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) or TomKat (Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes). As often as not, the newer combos are lost on me.

The questions to those JEOPARDY! answers. What are: motorcade, Breathalyzer, netiquette, pixel, contrail.

ABC Wednesday – Round 10

0 thoughts on “P is for Portmanteau”

  1. How clever you are! This is highly interesting, I learn a lot by blogging. I like to find out what the answers are to these questions:

    This 9-letter word for a procession of cars is often used to refer to that of the U.S. president
    *It’s the trademark name for the device used by police to measure a driver’s alcohol intake
    *It’s the code of online social behavior
    *It’s the smallest element of an image on a computer monitor
    *This word refers to the visible path in the wake of an aircraft.

    Could you give them to me? ( if you have time of course!)


  2. So where do acronyms stop and portmanteaus begin? I.e. is Cointelpro a portmanteau?

    Also, on the co-opting of the term “fracking”: I now sometimes hear it totally out of context, e.g. “no frackin’ way,” even if you’re not talking about fossil fuels. It’s rapidly becoming a minced oath.


    1. Sure, why not? Counter Intelligence Professional. They are not, by my reckoning, mutually exclusive devices.


  3. Just… wanna… ech…

    Okay, gonna do it: “Counter Intelligence Program,” not “Counter Intelligence Professional,” i.e. those guys at the FBI who did those horrible, horrible things for decades and, realistically, probably still do.


    1. OK. I was just guessing, but the point is that it conveys the intention of the phrase. Not vetting the accuracy of the portmanteau, or the acronym, for that matter. Talking language/linguistics. Yes, you’re probably right.


  4. I was scratching my head over the nine letter word, but then we don’t have motorcades in the UK, just traffic jams.

    The obvious portmanteau words that spring to mind are ‘chugger’ and ‘advertorial’. Not to mention ‘internet’!


  5. Well, usually I’d let something like that drop or ignore it, but you have no idea how many people think that “Cointelpro” is a conspiracy theory thing rather than something real that was covered by the NY Times and Washington Post in the early 70’s.

    But yeah, I think you’re right and, like a lot of words, Cointelpro is both a portmanteau and an acronym.


    1. Roy- from the Wikipedia: The term “portmanteau” itself was converted by Carroll to describe the concept. The etymology “portmanteau” is derived from French porter, to carry and manteau, cloak (from Old French mantel, from Latin mantellum).[10] In then-contemporary English, a portmanteau was a suitcase. In modern French, a porte-manteau is a clothes valet, a coat-tree or similar article of furniture for hanging up jackets, hats, umbrellas and the like.

      So, I say YES! Though by that definition, much of English is portmanteau.


      1. Though, on further thought, the word portmanteau is more of a compound word (like lighthouse) than an actual portmanteau.


  6. Ah, Smetty is a great word. Of course my spell check hates it.
    Got most of the 9 correct, except for netiquitte. I guess I am out of that loop.
    Great post Roger.


  7. Fascinating Roger and new to me. A case of the prim and proper days of travel before words with a double entendre and mixed metaphors perhaps! As a youngster my son used to say he had scrazed his knee i.e. an injury somewhere between scratch and graze


  8. Wonderful fun here, Roger. I love that Lewis Carroll made up the term “portmanteau” — my best friend and I used to entertain ourselves (many years pre-internet) by making up words. We would roll on the floor laughing, long before it became ROFL.


  9. Tanzania is the joining of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, I didn’t know this. Of course, you are a librarain, and you know lots and lots of things and words. I have a student from Tanzania. Tomorrow, I will tell her, and she will think I am so clever. LOl


  10. My friend Roger,
    I must admit…never used this word before. Yes, you have done a masterful job with this post. I am learning my friend (smile). Thank you for sharing.


  11. always learning something here….I love words and what they mean and how language developed to what it is today…and I like your comments as you always say clever things on my blog and make it more interesting. thanks.


  12. Roger, a particularly interesting post! Wasn’t familiar with the term “portemanteau,” although I know what they are.

    “No frackin’ way” was not derived from hydrofracturing, or “fracking.” It’s a fake swear word from both the original network “Battlestar Gallactica” and the recent remake of same. They made up “Frack” to take the place of its four-letter implied oath. The censors could do nothing about it. Creativity trumps censorship every time.

    That’s why, when hydrofracturing became the rage, “fracking” as a professional term cracked me up completely. And I refer to my nephew (poor deluded soul in the worst profession EVER) as “that little fracker, Joe.” Loved this, Roger! Here’s mine:


    1. Amy – I’ve just remembered that when the Tea Party first started and they referred to themselves as teabaggers, which, of course, had ITS own context.

      I always liked curses left unsaid, such as “Chuck you, Farley. ”

      But yes, the forces that be STILL call it hydrofracking! ttp://www.hydraulicfracturing.com/Pages/information.aspx


  13. I’m quite in favor of the usage, “Frack You.” That could literally mean, “I hope someone injects poisonous water into your bones so they can extract your marrow and sell it.” Yowch!

    That’s a lot nastier than the traditional “F You,” which can actually mean that I wish something nice happens to you. I still don’t understand why “F You” is always an insult that I can’t spell out on a family blog like this one.


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