A portmanteau (click here for pronunciation) is an old-fashioned type of luggage—a large travelling bag typically made of leather, opening into two equal parts.
Thanks to the writer Lewis Caroll, the term has come to refer to a curious feature of language, where elements of two or more words are combined to create a new word, connected in meaning with the original terms. In his novel Through the Looking Glass, Carol likened such new words to a portmanteau: ‘two meanings packed up into one word’.
You may not have noticed, but portmanteaus are everywhere around us (the words, not the bags). They are now frequent in brand names, or when referring to celebrity couples (think of FedEx, Instagram or Brangelina). But also, some very common and not so new words originated as portmanteaus.
Here are a few typical examples:
biopic < biography + picture = a biographical film
bromance < brother + romance = close, platonic relationship between two men
emoticon < emotion + icon = a keyboard symbol representing an emotion
frenemy < friend + enemy = a personal enemy pretending to be a friend
listicle < list + article = a magazine article written as an itemised list
motel < motor + hotel = a hotel for motorists
sitcom < situational + comedy = an amusing and humorous TV series
smog < smoke + fog = heavily polluted air
For homework, try to figure out the meaning of the following portmanteau words, and the words they are derived from (answer key available here):
mocktail | webinar | spork | hangry | podcast
If you can think of any more examples, do post them in the comments section below!