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definitions - Portmanteau

portmanteau (n.)

1.a large travelling bag made of stiff leather

2.a new word formed by joining two others and combining their meanings"`smog' is a blend of `smoke' and `fog'" "`motel' is a portmanteau word made by combining `motor' and `hotel'" "`brunch' is a well-known portmanteau"

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Merriam Webster

PortmanteauPort*man"teau (?), n.; pl. Portmanteaus (#). [F. porte-manteau; porter to carry + manteau a cloak, mantle. See Port to carry, and Mantle.] A bag or case, usually of leather, for carrying wearing apparel, etc., on journeys. Thackeray.

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portmanteau (n.)



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A portmanteau (pronounced /pɔrtmænˈtoʊ/  ( listen)) or portmanteau word is used broadly to mean a blend of two (or more) words or morphemes and their meanings into one new word,[1][2][3] and narrowly in linguistics fields to mean only a blend of two or more function words.[4][5][6][7]



"Portmanteau word" is used to describe a linguistic blend, namely "a word formed by blending sounds from two or more distinct words and combining their meanings."[1] The plural form of "portmanteau" may be portmanteaux or portmanteaus.[2]

Such a definition of "portmanteau word" overlaps with the grammatical term contraction. Linguists avoid using the latter term in such cases. As an example, the words do and not become the contraction don't, a single word that represents the meaning of the combined words.

A distinction can be made between the two by noting that contractions can only be formed with two words that would otherwise appear in sequence within the sentence, whereas a "Portmanteau word" is typically formed by combining two or more existing words that all relate to a singular concept which the new portmanteau is meant to describe. An example is the well-known portmanteau word "Spanglish", referring to speaking a mix of both Spanish and English spoken between bilingual people. In this case, there is no logical situation in which the speaker would say "Spanish English" in place of the portmanteau word in the same way they could say "do not" in place of the contraction "don't", or "we are" in place of "we're".


The usage of the word "portmanteau" in this sense first appeared in Lewis Carroll's book Through the Looking-Glass (1871),[1] in which Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice the coinage of the unusual words in Jabberwocky:[8]

  • ‘Slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy’
  • ‘Mimsy’ is ‘flimsy and miserable’

Carroll uses the word again when discussing lexical selection:

Humpty Dumpty's theory, of two meanings packed into one word like a portmanteau, seems to me the right explanation for all. For instance, take the two words "fuming" and "furious." Make up your mind that you will say both words ... you will say "frumious."[8]

Charles Dickens used portmanteau to name many of his characters, most notably "Scrooge" which results from the combination of "screw" and "gouge."[citation needed]

The word itself was converted by Carroll to describe the concept. A portmanteau was a suitcase; according to the The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the word portmanteau comes from French porter, to carry + manteau, cloak (from Old French mantel, from Latin mantellum).[9]


Standard English words

The original "Gerrymander" pictured in an 1812 cartoon. The word is a portmanteau of Massachusetts Governor Gerry's name, with "salamander"

Many neologisms are examples of blends, but many blends have become part of the lexicon.[8] In Punch in 1896, the word brunch (breakfast + lunch) was introduced as a "portmanteau word."[10] The word "smog" was coined around 1893 or 1905 as a portmanteau of "smoke" and "fog". In 1964, the newly independent African republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar chose the portmanteau word Tanzania as its name.

"Wikipedia" is an example of a portmanteau word because it combines the word "wiki" with the word "Encyclopedia."

Portmanteau words may be produced by joining together proper nouns with common nouns, such as "gerrymandering," which refers to the scheme of Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry for politically contrived redistricting: one of the districts created resembled a salamander in outline.

Non-standard English words

Many portmanteau words have not yet become part of regular English.

A spork is an eating utensil that is a combination of a spoon and fork. A skort is an item of clothing that is part skirt, part shorts.

"Jeoportmanteau!" is a recurring category on the American television quiz show Jeopardy!. The category's name is itself a portmanteau of "Jeopardy" and "portmanteau". Responses in the category are portmanteaus constructed by fitting two words together. For example, the clue "Brett Favre or John Elway plus a knapsack" yielded the response "What is a 'quarterbackpack'?"[11][unreliable source?]

Blaxploitation is a film genre/style, whose name derives from a portmanteau of "black" and "exploitation," reflecting its main theme of social problems, along with the stereotypical depiction of Black people in film.[citation needed]

Two proper names can also be used in creating a portmanteau word in reference to the partnership between people, especially in cases where both persons are well-known, or sometimes to produce epithets such as "Billary" (referring to former United States president Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton). In this example of recent American political history, the purpose for blending is not so much to combine the meanings of the source words but "to suggest a resemblance of one named person to the other"; the effect is often derogatory, as linguist Benjamin Zimmer notes.[12] In contrast, the public and even the media use portmanteaux to refer to their favorite pairings as a way to "...giv[e] people an essence of who they are within the same name."[13] This is particularly seen in cases of fictional and real-life "supercouples." An early and well-known example, Bennifer, referred to film stars (and former couple) Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. Other examples include Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) and TomKat (Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes). In double-barreled names, the hyphen is almost pushing one name away from the other.[13] Meshing says "I am you and you are me," notes one expert.[13]

Portmanteaux can also be created by attaching a prefix or suffix from one word to give that association to other words. Subsequent to the Watergate scandal, it became popular to attach the suffix "-gate" to other words to describe contemporary scandals, e.g. "Filegate" for the White House FBI files controversy, Nipplegate, and Spygate, an incident involving the 2007 New England Patriots. Likewise, the suffix "-holism" or "-holic," taken from the word "alcoholism" or "alcoholic," can be added to a noun, creating a word that describes an addiction to that noun. Chocoholic, for instance, means a person who is "addicted" to chocolate. Also, the suffix "-athon" is often appended to other words to connote a similarity to a marathon (for example, telethon, phonathon and walkathon).

Examples in languages other than English

Modern Hebrew

Modern Hebrew abounds with European mechanisms such as blending: "Along with kómpaktdisk ‘compact disc’, Hebrew has the blend taklitór, which consists of the Hebrew-descent taklít ‘record’ and ór ‘light’. Modern Hebrew is full of portmanteau blends [...] such as (1) arpíakh ‘smog’, from arafél ‘fog’ and píakh ‘soot’; (2) mídrakhov ‘(pedestrian) mall, promenade’, from midrakhá ‘footpath’ and rekhóv ‘street’; (3) makhazémer ‘musical’, from makhazé ‘play (n)’ and zémer ‘singing’; or (4) bohoráim ‘brunch’, from bóker ‘morning, breakfast (cf. arukhát bóker ‘breakfast’)’ and tsohoráim ‘noon, lunch (cf. arukhát tsohoráim ‘lunch’)’."[14] There is also the uncommonly used politically incorrect term 'ashlav' which is a combination of 'ashpah' which means trash and 'lavan' which means white.


There is a tradition of linguistic purism in Icelandic and neologisms are frequently created from pre-existing words. Tölva ("computer") is a portmanteau of tala ("digit; number") and völva ("seeress").[15]


Golput is used to refer to voters who abstain from voting, from Golongan Putih, "blank party" or "white party."[16]


There are many examples of borrowed word blends in Japanese. "Pasocon", written in katakana (to denote its loan word status) meaning PC (Personal computer) is not officially an English loan word. The word does not exist in English. The blend of the English words 'personal computer' makes the uniquely Japanese word. "Pokémon" from the English 'Pocket' and 'Monster' is another example.[17]

Portmanteau morph

In linguistics, the term blend is used to refer to general combination of words, and the term "portmanteau" is reserved for the narrow sense of combining two function words. Examples of such combination include French ("à le" → au; "de le" → du), German ("in das" → ins; "in dem" → im; "zu dem" → zum; "zu der" → zur), Irish ("de an" → den; "do an" → don) and Spanish ("a el" → al; "de el" → del). This usage has been referred to as "portmanteau morph."[4]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Oxford English Dictionary, Portmanteau definition 4b, giving Carroll as first user, second usage appearing in 1882 in the Cornhill Magazine
  2. ^ a b "Portmanteau". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/portmanteau. Retrieved 21 June 2008. 
  3. ^ "Portmanteau word". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000. http://www.bartleby.com/61/91/P0459100.html. Retrieved 21 June 2008. 
  4. ^ a b "What is a portmanteau morph?". LinguaLinks Library. 2003. http://www.sil.org/Linguistics/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/WhatIsAPortmanteauMorph.htm. 
  5. ^ Thomas, David (1983), [Expression error: Missing operand for > An invitation to grammar], Summer Institute of Linguistics, Bangkok: Mahidol University, p. 9 
  6. ^ Crystal, David (1985), [Expression error: Missing operand for > A dictionary of linguistics and phonetics] (2nd ed.), New York: Basil Blackwell, pp. 237 
  7. ^ Hartmann, R.R.K.; Stork, F.C. (1972), [Expression error: Missing operand for > Dictionary of language and linguistics], London: Applied Science, pp. 180 
  8. ^ a b c Fromkin, V., Rodman, R., and Hyams, N. (2007) An Introduction to Language, Eighth Edition. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth. ISBN 1-4130-1773-8.
  9. ^ "Portmanteau". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.
  10. ^ Punch, 1 August 1896, 58/2
  11. ^ "J! Archive - Show 4675, aired 24 December 2004". http://www.j-archive.com/showgame.php?game_id=87&highlight=portmanteau. Retrieved 13 April 2009.  (The clue in question is located under "Double Jeopardy")
  12. ^ Zimmer, Benjamin (1 November 2005). "A perilous portmanteau?". Language Log. University of Pennsylvania. http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002610.html. Retrieved 11 November 2008. 
  13. ^ a b c Winterman, Denise (3 August 2006). "What a mesh". BBC News Magazine. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/5239464.stm. Retrieved 17 July 2008. 
  14. ^ See p. 62 in Zuckermann, Ghil'ad, Hybridity versus Revivability: Multiple Causation, Forms and Patterns. In Journal of Language Contact, Varia 2 (2009), pp. 40-67
  15. ^ Kristján Árnason; Sigrún Helgadóttir (1991), "Terminology and Icelandic Language Policy", Behovet och nyttan av terminologiskt arbete på 90-talet, Nordterm 5, Nordterm-symposium, pp. 7-21
  16. ^ "Golput - Schott’s Vocab Blog - NYTimes.com". http://schott.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/17/golput/. Retrieved 19 June 2009. 
  17. ^ [www.sfu.ca/gradlings/SFUWPL/ICEAL2/Rosen_E.pdf]


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