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Kategorien/Categories:    ›Sprachkultur/Language culture‹  ›EN‹   –  15.10.2012

Just make it up!

One of the things I’ve always loved about the English language is the ease with which new words are formed. At a moment’s thought, new, descriptive verbs are coined or words melded like Siamese twins to form new concepts. The good ones become part of our vocabulary, and sometimes we don’t even think about their creative origin anymore.

One of the hallmarks of creative and inventive language use surely is the portmanteau word. It is formed by combining two words into a new term, mixing and matching parts of each, just  like that old children’s game where you make up phantasy figures from separate body parts. The new word describes a concept for which there has never before been a satisfactory word.

This practice gave us such fine words as edutainment, blaxploitation, sitcom, breathalyzer, shockumentary and, of course, the blog (from web + log). Among the newer arrivals are Bollywood, tangelo (tangerine + pomelo), McMansion, spork (spoon + fork), shopaholic, frenemy (friend + enemy), frankenfood (genetically modified food) and affluenza (affluence + influenza), which denotes anxiety or dissatisfaction caused by submission to consumerism. Then there are the morphed brand names, such as Velcro - from French "velours" (velvet) and "crochet" (hook)-, or Cambozola, a creamy concoction of Camembert and Gorgonzola. Even Wikipedia is a portmanteau!

Some portmanteaus have been around long enough to become part of the mainstream vocabulary - we simply don’t think about them as separate terms anymore. Examples include motel (motor + hotel), brunch (breakfast + lunch), smog (smoke + fog), ruckus (ruction + rumpus) and even the camcorder (yes, it’s that old!).

Alice and Humpty DumptyThe word portmanteau in its French origin is itself an amalgam of the words porter (to carry) and manteau (cloak) and describes a suitcase with two compartments. Lewis Carroll introduced the linguistic two-in-one concept in his book “Through the Looking Glass” in 1871. There, Humpty Dumpty explained to Alice the origin of all those unusual words in the Jabberwocky poem, describing a portmanteau as “two meanings packed up into one word.”

Well, we hope we haven’t caused any anticipointment (anticipation + disappointment, due to letdown after hype gives way to reality) after that bodacious (bold + audacious) introduction. So just chillax and be prepared for a little linguistic creativity.