When Two Become One

by Chris Hancock

Oof! The reminder beep on my laptop roused me sharply from my reverie. And there was the notification text on screen, mocking me:

11am – That Word Site article: deadline approaching…

Yep – I knew I needed to come up with something – and fast. But I was lacking a subject to write about. And, to be honest, all I wanted to do was chillax, grab some brunch, then maybe watch a docusoap or do some boxercise. Wait a minute… “chillax”, “brunch”, “docusoap”, “boxercise”. They’re all portmanteau words! That gives me an idea. But whoa! Slow down, Chris. Chillax.

Okay, a portmanteau word is a combination of two (or more) words – and their definitions – into a single new word. The term portmanteau was coined by Lewis Carroll; other terms being “blend” or the wonderful “frankenword”. A portmanteau, incidentally, was the name of a type of suitcase that opened into two equal halves, so you can kind of see why Carroll chose it. Anyway, back to those words. To take two of them as examples, “chillax” is a combination of “chill” and “relax”; and “brunch” of “breakfast” and “lunch”. Got it? A great portmanteau succeeds either because it succinctly sums something up, or because it is so bad it’s good – you cringe, but you remember it.

So far so good. I could write about portmanteau words – a portmantarticle, ha ha – but I’d need a list of words and some sort of angle to make it interesting. I turned, as I often do, to my trusty Chambers Dictionary. As I withdrew it from the bookshelf, an adjacent book came with it, falling to the floor. Cursing, I bent down to retrieve it. It was the London A-to-Z street atlas. Of course! An A-to-Z of portmanteaux!

My mind clicked into overdrive. For A, I could use advertorial from advertising and editorial. Or maybe anecdotage, the telling of reminiscent stories in old age (anecdote and dotage).

For B, what could be better than banoffee pie? (made with banana and toffee) – just what I was eating for my brunch.

For C, I could go right back to the man who coined the term “portmanteau word”, Lewis Carroll, and choose chortle, his blend of chuckle and snort. Or I could get right up-to-date with chugger (charity mugger, someone who stops you in the street to sign you up to a charity donation).

D would be for dancercise, the fitness combination of dance and exercise.

And E would be emoticon (from emotion and icon).

For F, I would draw on the written word, with either faction (literary works blending both fact and fiction) or fanzine (where fans of a subject produce their own magazine).

G could take me back to Lewis Carroll again. It was he who coined galumph for galloping in triumph (though I’d say it sounds more like it’s describing a drunken elephant).

I could see H was going to be tricky. Could I get away with humongous? I’d seen it described as a portmanteau but it seemed like a cheat to me, with bits of each word appearing in a sort of ABAB pattern. Hmmm… But then the only alternative I could find wasn’t great either: hazmat – a term used for hazardous materials.

My choice for I would be infotainment, the name for TV shows that provide information, but made more palatable by adding elements of entertainment.

Only one portmanteau sprung to mind for J and that was jeggings, tight jeans-material leggings.

And if I thought J was short on options, K was worse. In the end I had to dip into a foreign language by choosing karaoke, a Japanese blend of kara and okesutora, meaning “empty orchestra”.

L would see me drawn to the animal kingdom. It would be a straight fight between labradoodle, the dog cross-bred from a labrador and a poodle; or liger, the offspring of a male lion and a female tiger.

M could be one of two involving “motor”, both dating back to the early 20th century: motel from motor and hotel, or motorcade, from motor and cavalcade.

Phew! I’d made it to the half-way point but I knew things wouldn’t get any easier.

For N, I could plump for a recent coinage: netizen, an internet citizen.

O could be Oxbridge, the term used to refer collectively to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

P could be paratrooper (parachute trooper) or maybe permafrost from permanent and frost.

I thought Q might cause problems, until I remembered about quasars. A quasar is a distant object in the universe that’s a bit like a star but not a star, a quasi-stellar object in fact.

For R, I’d be happy with Reaganomics, the name given to a free-market brand of economic policy taking its name from former US president Ronald Reagan and economics.

For S I would choose from two: sitcom from situation comedy, and spork, the item of cutlery that has the bowl of a spoon and the tines (prongs) of a fork.

T was my chance to choose a three-word blend, but what an ugly one: turducken, being a turkey stuffed with a duck which is itself stuffed with a chicken. Surely the most unappetising name ever invented.

To the sound of a barrel being scraped, I managed to get U as urinalysis, which – you’re ahead of me, right? – is the blend word for urine analysis.

V wasn’t much better. It would have to be vlogvideo blog.

W would continue in similar technological vein, with webinar, from web and seminar.

For X, hmm… let me get back to you on that.

Y yielded yesteryear, the recent past – obviously a blend of yesterday and year. Interestingly, this was introduced not in the recent past, but all the way back in 1870.

Having dealt with liger (and I could have had tigon, too) I suppose I should have guessed there’d be another mismatched-animal offspring portmanteau. In fact, for Z, there are two: both zedonk and zonkey are used for the fruit of a zebra and donkey’s union.

So there you have it – the A to Z of portmanteau words. Thanks for reading and see you soo- what? Oh… erm… yes… the letter X. Well remembered. Okay, here’s the deal. I couldn’t find one. Nope. Not one. And that gave me an idea for a That Word Site Reader’s Competition. Invent a portmanteau word beginning with X, e-mail it to competition@thatwordsite.com by Sunday February 23rd, 12:00 GMT. We’ll pick the best one and the winner will receive an ebook, and our utmost respect. Good luck!

For those who might find that a little energetic, how about a wordsearch of Portmanteaux? The puzzle is here and the solution can be found here.

Chris Hancock

About Chris Hancock

Chris Hancock (@cjhancock) is an IT consultant and dictionary enthusiast in the UK. He’s worked in Engineering and Computing since leaving University, all the time hoping that the post of Crossword Editor for “The Guardian” will come up. It hasn’t. Yet.


163 Comments to “When Two Become One”

  1. A new Hancock! Joy!!

  2. Jeggings are my most hated things, and word!

  3. If YOU can’t think of one how do you expect us to?! LOL! You are such fun.

  4. Gosh! Never thought of half of these as portmanteaus. Glad you skipped brunch for us!

  5. Yes, I think that warning is needed! But what a treat this article is!

  6. If an article is excellent and clever, can I call it xlever? 😀

  7. Turducken is a thing, a real thing? Horrifying!! Thanks for another fun read.

    • Chris Hancock

      I’m afraid it is, Laura. And in double-checking I’ve discovered the dessert to go with it – cherpumple, which is a combined cherry, pumpkin and apple pie. Bon appetit and thanks! :-)

  8. I must have a portmanteau menagerie! A liger, a tigon, a zedonk, and a labradoodle…

  9. There are of course many involving Xhosa – the xhosanostra, and of course the slang mix of xinglish. Thanks to this site I speak more English than xinglish these days!

  10. Portmantarticle= best thing ever!

  11. All I can come up with is xylody, a melody on a xylophone. Thank you Chris!

  12. Chancock is fantabulous!

  13. Ooooooooh I love a good Chris Hancock article! Happy!

  14. Articles and wordseasrches and happiness! Thank you Chris, you always bring a smile when it’s most needed.

  15. I’m not nearly clever enough to do anything but admire you! I do that a lot!

  16. You have forgotten xerography then.

  17. *melts* Chris article! Chris artyicle! Hallelujah!

  18. Ooh! What a great idea! How about xegret…when you xerox something at an office party but regret it later?

  19. Sensartical! Govely! I chortled and galumphed.

  20. Honest to goodness, all my best Fridays have Chris in them! X

  21. My mate Xena is silly…could she be Xilly?

  22. I am in tears of laughter over some of these! So glad inspiration hit you!

  23. I’d eat a turducken if you’d dine with me! We can have cronuts and macon too :-)

  24. I always devour your writing and then hunger for more! You are blessed with your talent.

  25. Great fun, cheers Chris.

  26. When I started reading this site I thought excellent, bit of fun. Then I found myself subscribing. Then eagerly awaiting each mail. Then forwarding them so my family could get what the old geezer was excited about. You have taught an old dog new tricks.

  27. Xews! – exciting news

  28. I propose xany: when something is yellow (xanthic) and zany. Like bananas in pyjamas.

  29. Chris! I was told you were a writer now but I’d no idea you were so good!

  30. How ’bout xenopodity – from xenophobia and stupidity. “He displayed his xenopidity”

  31. One of your foxiest wordsearches yet, thank you! Fab article.

  32. Just adorise you – adore and idolise x

  33. Can we talk about people naming their holiday homes portmanteaux of their names, like Richiffer? Better than Dunroamin, I suppose.

  34. The in thing for celebs these days – brangelina, kimye etc

  35. I never knew this word, portmanteau. I like it. If you break them apart again, are you portmantling them? 😀

  36. Love your writing Chris! Such sparkle!

  37. How can anyone read your articles and not feel good?

  38. Your writing is immaculate, not a word out of place! <3

  39. Another superlative piece of writing. “Portmantarticle” – my favourite moment!

  40. My friend is named Zanessa. After her parents, Zane and Vanessa…

    Loved your article!!

  41. *nods approvingly*

  42. I am so grateful you write for us! What a varied collection :)

  43. Can’ t we start a petition to get Natalie Portman to tattoo her toe like that?

  44. That turducken idea is keeping me from sleep! But I’ll forgive you, because you’re so talented.

  45. Go on, what’s your favourite?

    Lovely writing, lovely writer.

    • Chris Hancock

      Ooh! Tough question, Jessica. I’m going to go all the way back to Lewis Carroll and say “chortle”, because it’s a word we use without ever thinking it’s a portmanteau, because it fits a certain kind of laugh so perfectly.
      Thank you! :-)

  46. You make me think. About all the people out there playing with words every day. How happy that is! And how good at it you are!

  47. It’s tricky for me, this notion. It’s different from a compound word, like cooldrink? Thank you for teaching me so much with your beautiful words.

  48. Yes yes yes! Your column pleases me greatly!

  49. Delicious, Chris. You, not the turducken brunch.

  50. Aren’y you clever!

  51. Xoo: exultant use of the loo after a loooong movie.

  52. Gloriumptious!

  53. I enjoy silly Chris! I adore meaningful Chris, but I enjoy silly Chris :-)

  54. I like to write kaboodle for kit and caboodle. Thanks Chris Hancock!

  55. I always told my hubby vice=very nice 😉

  56. I only wish I had 1/100th of your skill! And your editor, for good measure.

  57. Xebra – an ex zebra
    X-pay – spend a fortune on medical bills

  58. Shew Mr Hancock, but you have a wonderful way of words.

  59. Oh but I loved this! Wonderful!

  60. Fascinated by the karaoke – are portmanteaux (or frankenwords – LOVE!) common in other languages?

  61. I am a huge fan of your very clever indeed work :-)

  62. It seems – from your earlier comments discussion with Geoffrey – that this has been around a long time: Latin roots combined to make English words, etc. My question I suppose is, when did they become so annoying? Not the delights like chortle and galumph, but mompreneur and glamping and tweeps?

    You, Chris, are an eternal delight, incidentally.

    • Chris Hancock

      Hi, Hanneli! That is a very good question, and one I’m afraid I don’t have an answer for. Maybe it’s just become fashionable, with celebrity-couple coinages like Bennifer and Brangelina effectively saying “anything goes”.

      Thank you! :-)

  63. Am I too late? Xentimetres: the centimetres you’ve lost.

  64. Xex: sex with the ex.

  65. Oooh! How about xeaves:dry leaves!

  66. Xextra: extra extra!

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