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What’s a Portmanteau? (Meaning plus Examples)

What's a portmanteau?

What’s a portmanteau?

Smog, Netflix, brunch, podcast.

What do these words all have in common? You probably know what each of these words mean, but did you also know that they’re all portmanteaus? Seriously, did you know that?

What's a portmanteau?

Meaning of portmanteau

A portmanteau (also called a blend) are like a word-smoothies: they’re words that are formed by blending two words together, in a way that leaves out parts of both words’ original form.

The word smog, for example, blends two separate words: smoke + fog.

Portmanteaus adopt the meaning of both words which it’s made up of, like smog, which the dictionary defines as “fog or haze combined with smoke and other atmospheric pollutants“. Put more simply, it’s when you have both smoke and fog in the air simultaneously, this forms “smog“.

The takeaway is that portmanteaus are not just “word-smoothies” in the sense that the letters are chopped up and blended together, but also in the literal meaning as both words merge to form the new word altogether.

Portmanteaus vs. compound words

Compare the following group of words:

Internet (interconnected + network), brunch (breakfast + lunch); hangry (hungry + angry)

Afternoon (after + noon); airport (airport); baseball (base + ball)

The latter group are closed compound words, which are words that are made up of two or more words, such as baseball and basketball. As you can see, the difference between them is simply in how each is formed:

  • Compound words keep both the original words’ spelling to create the new word; i.e., baseball uses the individual words base + ball entirely.
  • Portmanteaus use portions or segments of the original words, and then glue them together; brunch combines breakfast and lunch, but it only uses the letters “br” from breakfast, and the rest is lunch.

List of common portmanteaus

PortmanteauBlend of:Meaning
1. advertorialadvertisement + editorial an advertisement in the form of a written editorial.
2. affluenzaaffluence + influenza unhealthy feelings of entitlement or lack of motivation experienced by wealthy people
3. alphanumericalphabetic + numericconsisting of letters and numbers
4. animatronicsanimation + electronicsthe electronic animation of puppets
5. ankletankle + braceletjewelry designed to wrap around the ankle
6. athleisureathletic + leisurecomfortable clothing that can be worn for exercise or as casual, everyday attire
7. biopicbiography + picturea biographical film
8. BollywoodBombay + Hollywoodfilm industry in Bombay
9. Botoxbotulism + toxincosmetic procedure to attenuate the signs of aging
10. breathalyzerbreath + analyzerdevice used to detect someone’s blood alcohol level
11. BrexitBritain + exitGreat Britain’s exit from the European Union
12. bromancebrother + romancea close friendship between men
13. brunchbreakfast + luncha meal between the hours of breakfast and lunch
14. celebutantecelebrity + debutantea wealthy person who receives media attention akin to that of a celebrity
15. cosplaycostume + roleplaypeople dress as fictional characters in costumes
16. cyborgcybernetic + organisma creature with human features created using mechanical components
17. dumbfoundeddumb + confounded astonished or utterly speechless
18. electrocuteelectricity + executeto harm or kill with electricity
19. emailelectronic + mailan email, alternative to paper mail
20. emoticonemotion + iconfacial expressions expressed through keyboard symbols
21. froyofrozen + yogurtliterally, frozen yogurt
22. frenemyfriend + enemysomeone who acts as a friend but holds feelings of envy/rivalry
23. fortnightfourteen + nighttwo weeks/fourteen nights
24. fauxhawkfaux + mohawka fake mohawk
25. gastropubgastronomy + puba bar that serves gourmet food
26. glampingglamorous + campingluxury camping
26. hangryhungry + angrywhen someone is angry as a result of hunger
27. hazmathazardous + materiala material (such as flammable or poisonous material) that would be a danger to life or to the environment if released without precautions
28. intercominterconnected + networka two-way speaker system to communicate amongst people in a specific location
29. jeggingsjeans + leggingsleggings that look like jeans
30. labradoodlelabrador + poodlehybrid dog breed of a labrador retriever and a poodle
32. listiclelist + articlean article formatted as a list
33. mansplainman + explainto explain something (usually to a woman) in a condescending or patronizing manner
34. Medicaremedical + carethe US government’s health insurance program
35. metaversemeta + universea virtual universe/environment for social connection
36. mocktailmock + cocktaila cocktail without alcohol
37. motelmotor + hotela hotel for motorists
38. newscastnews + broadcasta radio or television segment that features current events
39. ObamacareObama + carea term that describes the Affordable Care Act under President Barack Obama’s administration
40. pluotplum + apricothybrid fruit that combines a plum and an apricot
41. podcastiPod + broadcastan audio program that can be downloaded and listened to
42. popsiclepop + iciclea frozen dessert on a stick
43. romcomromantic + comedya movie plot that blends comedy and romance
44. smogsmoke + foghazy, polluted air
45. sporkspoon + forka utensil that is both a spoon and a fork
46. stash store + cachea hiding place to store valuables
47. vlogvideo + loga video diary published online
48. webinarweb + seminara presentation or seminar held online

In review

A portmanteau is a linguistic blend of words, where portions of two separate words are combined to create a new term. The term “portmanteau” itself is a portmanteau, combining the French words “porter” (to carry) and “manteau” (coat), suggesting that these words carry the meanings of the words they blend. Coined by Lewis Carroll in “Through the Looking-Glass,” the word has found its way into mainstream vocabulary, representing a unique form of wordplay.

The term “portmanteau” in its linguistic sense gained prominence in the 19th century. Lewis Carroll’s use of the word to describe words like “smog” (smoke + fog) and “brunch” (breakfast + lunch) showcased the efficiency and expressiveness of this manipulation of words and language.

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