Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What is a Portmanteau?

If you've been around A Splash of Ink for awhile, you'll remember the series Word Wednesday. Every Wednesday Occasionally on Wednesdays I would write a post where the subject matter would do with words. Some posts were definitions, others were word origins, essentially the posts were about the nitty gritties of writing. Anyways, today's post is an honorary Word Wednesday post (it's Tuesday...shhh).

The subject today is Portmanteaus. Let's start at the beginning: the definition.

According to merriam-webster.com a portmanteau is a word or morpheme whose form and meaning are derived from a blending of two or more distinct forms (as smog from smoke and fog)

The origin of the term portmanteau words is two fold (haha get it? No? You will in a second). 

The word is a combination of the French word for carry, "porter", and the French word for mantle, "manteau". The original meaning of the word is used to describe a bag that has two openings (think a doctor's bag or a luggage piece).

Since portmanteau words have two parts, the term is also used to describe words that have two separate words (like two separate parts of the bag) squished together to make a new word.  

Some examples of portmanteau words are:

Blog (web + log)
Cosplay (costume + play)
Chillax (chill + relax)
Shopaholic (shop + alcoholic)
Ginormous (giant + enormous)
Bionic (biology + electronic)
Prissy (prim + sissy)
Emoticon (emotion + icon)
Puggle (pug + beagle)

Many portmanteau words are already socially accepted in the English language (words like blog, ginormous or prissy), but other words are still in the process of becoming "acceptable" words (like emoticon or cosplay). My theory is that in this age of internet and texting, the age of speed, more and more portmanteaus will become bigger than they already are, because they are quick and convenient. That's why it's important for us writers to understand this particular type of word.

For a whimsical touch to your descriptive writing, try channeling your inner Lewis Carroll -famous for portmanteau filled poem Jaberwocky and Alice in Wonderland series- and create your own portmanteaus. You could also consider writing a character whose dialogue is peppered with made up portmanteaus for another touch of whimsy. There's plenty of opportunities to use these (sometimes) silly combination words in your writing.

Feel free to leave some of your made up portmanteaus in the comments! Or, if you're not feeling creative, can you think of any other (already invented) portmanteaus? And as always, feel free to leave general thoughts and random observations.

Reading: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Listening: Switchfoot
Watching: Elementary


  1. I've always wanted to know the exact origin of the word 'portmanteau'. We have portmanteaus in singing too, which is where I first heard of the word. I have to say I never thought about them in the context of writing before. Now I can sound smart and tell everyone about this word!

    1. Interesting...I never realized that it was a musical term too.
      I definitely used this word a little too much the past few days, so I could show off and sound smart. Whether I succeeded or not, I don't know, lol.

      Thanks for stopping by:)

  2. Feeling pretty silly I didn't realise what the word "blog" stood for :S


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