My dad sent me a text the other day, excited that he learned a new word. He said that he had been looking for something to “express the combination of two words into a new word.”
That, and the fact that my dad messaged me to tell me about this discovery speaks volumes as to why I am the way I am.
The word he texted me about is “portmanteau.” While one of Merriam-Webster’s definitions is “a large suitcase,” the other is “a word or morpheme whose form and meaning are derived from a blending of two or more distinct forms (such as smog from smoke and fog).”
The origin of this word comes from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, in which Humpty Dumpty says, “Well, ‘slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy’ and ‘mimsy’ is ‘flimsy and miserable.’ You see it’s like a portmanteau – there are two meanings packed up into one word.”
Since then, I have noticed these joined words everywhere. I’ve been rereading The Hunger Games, and the word “frenemy” (friend + enemy) comes to mind. I signed up for insurance, and the rep asked if I was eligible for Medicare (medical + care). When I didn’t feel like measuring out spices when I cooked dinner the other night, I guessed and estimated (guesstimated) how much to use. Most recently, I learned that Brainiac was an ultra-smart super villain and that in naming him, the creators combined the words “brain” and “maniac.”
Now, keep in mind that not all words joined together make a portmanteau. Homerun, for example, is a compound word. Telephone is not, either, because tele- is a prefix that means “distance.” A portmanteau is when at least one word is shortened in forming the new one. Netiquette, for instance. Both words – network and etiquette – are shortened.
Try to think up more examples of portmanteaus. In the meantime, I’ll avoid getting hangry by drinking a Frappuccino on the way to brunch. My kids will play Pokémon while I watch a romcom featuring Brangelina.