Words we love: portmanteau – a beautiful mash up
By Kate Selley, Account Manager
I hold my hands up. It was only until recently I learnt portmanteau isn’t a fishing port off the coast of Spain.
What I previously would have so eloquently defined as ‘two words mashed together’ I now know is a portmanteau, which translates from French to mean a large suitcase.
Lewis Carrol puts it better in Through the Looking Glass when Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice the practice of combining words in various ways:
“You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.”
Not happy having been outsmarted by Humpty Dumpty, I dug a little deeper and, in the process, became a little obsessed.
You’ve got the obvious ones: email (electronic + mail), romcom (romantic + comedy), motel (motorway + hotel), podcast (iPod + broadcast)…
There’s the joyous union of two celebrities: Brangelina (Brad Pitt + Angelina Jolie), TomKat (Tom Cruise + Katy Holmes), Kimye (Kim Kardashian + Kanye West). Side note – all are now divorced.
Then there are my favourite ones… the unexpected ones: shepherd (sheep + herder) stash (store + cache), Pokémon (pocket + monsters), squander (scatter + wander)…
And with new Portmanteaus popping up everyday – some better than others – I decided it was time to create three golden rules for a good portmanteau:
1. It needs to roll off the tongue – tofurky (tofu + turkey) falls into this category. If you need to do a double take in order to say it, it’s a no from me.
2. Keep away from politics – the dreaded ‘B’ word. If it causes every face to fall when uttered, it needs to go. In fact, I call for any future portmanteaus packed up with the word exit to also be banned.
3. Don’t overcomplicate – a survey said one of the most hated portmanteaus was guesstimate (guess + estimate). I concur. The two words are too similar you could say either and get the same result.
Like anything, there will be ones you love and ones that will make you cringe but for the most part there’s no denying the little joy of the portmanteau and their (sometimes) satisfying logic.