The Portmanteau: Creativity With Words
When you think about creativity with words, I expect it’s things like poems, songs, and even jokes that spring to mind. But have you ever noticed that in the English language, we get pretty creative with the words themselves?
I’m talking about portmanteau words – words we create by squishing two (or occasionally more) existing words together.
Take, for example, brunch. It’s no secret that this combines the words breakfast and lunch to create a term that refers to a meal eaten between these two times. Brunch first appeared in print over 100 years ago in an 1896 edition of Punch magazine, so this is a by no means a modern phenomenon.
A local dentist clinic in Bali (Bali Dentist (at Rejuvie) ) recently promoted their smile makeover as smile-icious, meaning a delicious or beautiful smile.In fact, the term “portmanteau” first appears with this meaning in Lewis Carroll’s book Through the Looking-Glass (1871), where Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice the meaning of several unusual words in Jabberwocky: slithy means lithe and slimy, and mimsy means flimsy and miserable. Humpty Dumpty goes on to explain the practice of mixing words together:
You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.
As the years have gone by, we’ve seen more portmanteau words coming into common usage and eventually being added to some dictionaries.
In an update last year, OxfordDictionaries.com added hangry (hungry and angry), to describe the state where somebody becomes irritable as a result of hunger. Sometimes it can feel good to finally have a name for something!
The business world has contributed many portmanteau words to our language. Some of the best known of these are to do with advertising: advertorial (an advert presented as an editorial), infotainment (information presented in an entertaining way), and infomercial (an informational commercial), to name but a few.
Even the French have been at it – the name for the everyday fastening Velcro comes from the French velours (velvet) and crochet (hook).
Waste of Space
One of the latest – and perhaps least valuable – uses of this creativity with words can be found in celebrity gossip magazines where it’s become common to name couples using a portmanteau (perhaps because writing the two names individually would take up too much valuable page space). Think Bennifer (Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez), Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie), and TomKat (Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes).
Here are some others that you may well use without even thinking about where they come from:
-Chillax (chill/relax): to calm down; relax; take a break (from work or exertion)
-Frenemy (friend/enemy): a supposed friend who behaves like a foe Ginormous (gigantic/enormous): huge
-Mockumentary (mock/documentary): a feature film that spoofs the documentary form
-Screenager (screen/teenager): an adolescent who spends a lot of their time looking at screens on electronic devices
-Shopaholic (shop/alcoholic): someone addicted to shopping (also chocaholic, workaholic, etc.)
-Spork (spook/fork): an eating utensil in the shape of a spoon with the prongs of a fork
Let’s get creative
But how do these words actually become a part of our language? It’s not like someone at dictionary HQ is employed to come up with them and then announce them officially. No, it’s people like you and me who have the creativity to invent these words, and through using them with our friends or online, the really good ones take off and gradually spread into wider usage. THAT’S when the dictionaries pick up on them.
So here’s your chance to influence the English language. Think of something that you can’t neatly describe in one word, and get creative thinking of a portmanteau word for it. If you come up with any good ones, leave a reply to let me know, and this could be the start of something big!