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This article is about portmanteau words. For the travelling case also called portmanteau, see portmanteau (travelling case). For a list of portmanteau words, see list of portmanteaux.

A portmanteau (plural: portmanteaus or portmanteaux) is a word that is formed by combining two words. It can also be called a frankenword. The term used in linguistics is blend (see Portmanteaus in linguistics).


Origin and usage

This word was coined by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, in which it is likened to a travelling case. Carroll has Humpty Dumpty say, "Well, slithy means lithe and slimy... You see it's like a portmanteau — there are two meanings packed up into one word." Carroll used such words to humorous effect in his poems, especially Jabberwocky, which Humpty Dumpty is explaining to Alice.

James Joyce used portmanteau words extensively in Finnegans Wake. Many corporate brand names, trademarks, and initiatives, as well as names of corporations and organizations themselves, are portmanteaus. For example, Wikipedia is a portmanteau made from wiki and encyclopedia, and Wiktionary, one of Wikipedia's sister projects, is a portmanteau of wiki and dictionary.

Methods of forming

Most portmanteaus are formed by one of the following methods:

  1. Part of the sounds of both components are mixed in a "creative" way, mostly preserving their order, e.g., slithy in an example above. This method was preferred by Lewis Carroll, but is not much in use otherwise. In another humorous (probably because less 'sensical') example, there were two songs released consecutively by the Swedish band Rednex, called "Cotton Eye Joe" and "Old Pop in an Oak"; Two portmanteaus were heard: 'Caught in an Oak' and 'Poppin' Eye Joe'.
  2. The beginning of one word is prepended to the end of the other, e.g., breakfast + lunch = brunch. Sometimes the letter/sound at the boundary is common to both components, e.g., smoke + fog = smog. This is the most common method of portmanteau forming.
  3. Both components contains a common sequence of letters or sounds. The portmanteau is composed of the beginning of the first component, the common part and the end of the second component. This is a rare kind of portmanteau. For example, the word Californication, popularized by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, sounds as if it were California + fornication.

The word giraffiti can be classified as either the first (according to spelling) or the third (according to sound) kind of portmanteau.

There is no formal definition of portmanteau. However, words made up of two or more other words are usually not considered portmanteaus if they can be described by some other term. Thus, the following are not portmanteaus:

Portmanteaus in other languages

  • Tashhetz (תשחץ) in Hebrew means arrow crossword and is made up of tashbetz (crossword) + hetz (arrow).
  • Dasaitama in Japanese is a nickname for the city Saitama, and a compound of the city's name with Dasai (uncool).

Portmanteaus for language mixtures

  • Franglais in French: (français + anglais) ("French" + "English").
  • Portunhol in Portuguese (português + espanhol) ("Portuguese" + "Spanish").
  • Svengelska in Swedish: (svenska + engelska) ("Swedish" + "English").
  • Svorsk in Norwegian: (svensk + norsk) ("Swedish" + "Norwegian").
  • Denglisch in German: (Deutsch + Englisch) ("German" + "English").
  • Itagnol in Italian: (italiano + spagnolo) ("Italian" + "Spanish").
  • Spanglish in English: (Spanish + English).

Portmanteaus in linguistics

In linguistics, the term portmanteau word is used in a much narrower, yet still not clearly defined sense.

Most of the examples given above are usually called blends by linguists. A blend in this sense is a word which creatively combines content words in ways that (a) often rely on similarity of sounds, and (b) don't respect their morphological structure (the way they are formed up from smaller meaningful parts). For example, the word smog is formed by putting together the sm- from smoke and the -og from fog, but neither piece is actually a meaningful subpart of the word it's taken from. Blends are consciously and deliberately invented by people, in order to use language cleverly and creatively.

Linguists also use the term portmanteau for contractions.

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