Portmanteau words in English

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!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: