The fabulous thing about language is that it’s constantly changing. It is not something static. Everyday we are inventing new words to describe new phenomena and old words which already existed are coming into common use. Language changes with the times, the fashions, our concerns…
Imagine not knowing what a blog was or the verb “to google”!
We even have a Word of the Year; a word or expression which lots of people use which reflects the passing year and is of cultural significance. Unsurprisingly, the Oxford word of the year in 2019 was “climate emergency” (a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or stop climate change and avoid irreversible environmental damage.) On the shortlist was “Ecocide” (destruction of the natural environment by deliberate or negligent human action) and “flight shame” (a reluctance to travel by air, or discomfort at doing so, because of the damaging emission of greenhouse gases and other pollutants by aircraft) In 2015 for the time ever an emoji was the Word of the Year and in 2013, it was “selfie” (a photograph that you take of yourself , usually with a mobile phone and often published on social media)
Sometimes however one word is not enough to describe something and “portmanteau words” (a word formed by combining two other words, for example brunch, breakfast + lunch) are very popular in modern-day English.
The word portmanteau itself is also a blend of two different French words: porter (to carry) and manteau (a cloak). It first appeared in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass:
“Well, ‘slithy’ means “lithe and slimy” and ‘mimsy’ is “flimsy and miserable”. You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.”
Nowadays you can find these words everywhere, describing people, places, technology…
I am sure you know who “Brangelina” is… Brad (Pitt) + Angelina (Jolie) but maybe you didn’t know that “Tanzania” is the name they chose for the newly independent African republics of Tanganyika and Zanzibar or that Oxbridge refers to The UK’s two oldest universities, Oxford and Cambridge.
Did you know that some brand names are even an example of a portmanteau? Microsoft, is a blend of microcomputer + software. And we can find lots more examples related to technology:
- Internet: international + network
- Webinar: web + seminar
- Malware: malicious (bad) + software
- Emoticon: emotion + icon
- Netizen: internet + citizen
They are also popular in the world of entertainment :
- Bollywood: Bombay + Hollywood
- Edutainment: education + entertainment
- Mockumentary: mock + documentary
- Docusoap: documentary + soap opera
From the word alcoholic we get these words to describe an addiction:
- Chocoholic: chocolate + alcoholic
- Shopaholic: shopping + alcoholic
- Workaholic: work + alcoholic
How cool is Spanglish (Spanish + English) and Chinglish (Chinese + English) to describe a blend of two languages! However, perhaps the portmanteau word we have heard the most recently is Brexit (Britain + Exit)!
Don’t you just love these words? I think they’re great. Firstly because when we learn a portmanteau word we are actually learning and revising 3 words! When we learn liger, we learn or revise lion and tiger too and connecting these three word helps us remember them. Three for the price of one! Secondly, they are super fun and creative!
You can see more examples here.
Although some portmanteau words are in the dictionary, there are lots of fantastic ones that people have invented that aren’t there yet, for example “chairdrobe” (the art of piling clothes on a chair to be used in place of a wardrobe. If a chair is not available one can always use a floordrobe!)
The more people use a word the more chance it has of getting into the dictionary. Check out these ones, if you like them, use them, and they could end up in the dictionary!
Even better, if you are feeling creative, how about inventing one yourself, if enough people like it and use it, who knows…it could get in the dictionary!
What about in your language? Do you have any words like this?
Well I’m going to chillax now, until next time 😉
Happy Smarter Learning!