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Words for Nerds – Portmanteau

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Today’s Word Nerd quiz is really easy! There’s only going to be two choices for the correct definition. What do you think portmanteau means?

A. A large leather suitcase that opens into two compartments
B. A new word formed by combining elements of two words and their meanings

The correct definition of portmanteau is … both! (I told you it was going to be easy.) Portmanteau words are all around us … words like infomercial, smog, and Reaganomics. Take a look at this excellent list of portmanteau words … a few excerpts —

  • Electrocute (electric + execute)
  • Pixel (picture + element)
  • Telethon (telephone + marathon)
  • Chortle (chuckle + snort)
  • Emoticon (emotion + icon)
  • Waddle (wade + toddle)

Lewis Carroll, by the way, first used portmanteau to describe such words. He himself coined a number of famous portmanteau words, including slithy, mimsy, chortle, and galumph.

Brand names are sometimes portmanteaus, and here are a few I didn’t even realize fell in that category —

Verizon, for instance, is a combination of the Latin word veritas, meaning “truth,” and the English word “horizon.”
Rolodex is a “rolling index” – a name which describes the product itself, rather than its benefits.
Microsoft, Accenture, Amtrak, Intel, and Texaco all have portmanteau company names.

Many new words come into our language via the portmanteau express. Here’s a new one — Tweetaholics, or folks who are addicted to Twitter. That word no doubt will be coming to a dictionary near you soon. Blog comments are sprinkled with words such as ginormous, fantabulous, and fabulistic, usually as a way to avoid saying “Nice post!”

Can you come up with a portmanteau word? Let me see if I can get the ball rolling … hmm …

Twittermitter (Twitter + intermittent + transmitter) (noun), an unreliable computer server that is down more often than up.

Cubismal (Chicago Cubs + dismal) (adjective), Frustrating and disappointing in a dramatic or shocking way, expecially in an athletic contest or season.

Hopefully “cubismal” will become obsolete this year and be replaced by a new portmanteau, cubtorious!

Portmanteau words are fun – give it a try!