Serious enough for a portmanteau.

Things are going to get a little crazy around here. I think I’m ready, though.

  • Stocked up on drinking water, ground coffee, non-perishable food (including Baked Cheetos), propane gas for the grill, AA batteries for LED lamps? Check!
  • Did laundry, vacuumed, charged all electronics, filled gas tank, sandbagged basement door? Check!
  • Sent emails to students with updated due dates, downloaded documents needed to study for Thursday’s midterm? Check!
  • Brought in wood if we need heat, cleaned last year’s ashes out of wood-burning stove, set out large bin to collect rain water to supplement the store of plumbing water? Check!
  • Got dark rum and ginger beer to make Dark n’ Stormys? Check!
  • Downloaded “Riders in the Storm” for cell phone ringtone? Check!

I can also finish my puzzle. Actually, this was taken a few days ago. Audrey is already done. I’ll post a new picture when it’s complete.

Okay, folks. I think I’m ready for the storm. School has been cancelled for the next two days, so I might have a chance to come up from under my 50+ essays per week and breathe. And by ‘breathe,’ I actually mean ‘finally get some of my own reading and writing done!’ I won’t have any outside obligations beyond just riding out the storm.

Or, should I say, the Frankenstorm?

Last year – to the day, in fact – we had Snowzilla. Now we have a possible freak combination of a hurricane and a cold front – thus, Frankenstorm. What is the deal with our compulsion to give cute nicknames to forces of nature?

English has a long history of, shall we say, smooshing our words together. They’re called portmanteaus (or, the more proper plural, portmanteaux.) We take the beginning part of one word (or occasionally the entire word) and merge it with the end part of another, and in doing so, we create new hybrid words and concepts. They’re like the mules of language – part horse, part donkey, and stubbornly persistent.

Some of the more famous portmanteaus?

  • Smog = smoke+fog
  • Cheeseburger = cheese+hamburger
  • Motel = motor+hotel
  • Camcorder = camera+recorder

We’ve all heard these words, but some might not know that they originated from two existing words. Here’s a few that surprised me:

  • Chortle = chuckle+snort (coined by Lewis Carroll)
  • Meld = melt+weld
  • Snark = snide+remark

Portmanteaus are a fascinating chronicle of pop culture, as many of them are created to suit new fads and fashions, changing sensibilities, and apparently, acts of nature. Consider the following:

  • Bromance = brother+romance
  • Gaydar = gay+radar
  • Blaxploitation = black+exploitation (Blacula anyone?)
  • Jazzercise = jazz+exercise
  • Jeggings = jeans+leggings
  • Turducken = turkey+duck+chicken (This is more of an act against nature.)

Zelda remains unconcerned about the weather or possible outages.

These words are so often linked to the culture of a time and a place. Since Brad and Angelina are still together, we still know who Brangelina refers to, but how long will it be until we forget TomKat or Bennifer? Could you imagine past famous Hollywood couples getting the portmanteau treatment? Liz Tayler and Richard Burton: Lizard?

Some fads are so short-lived that their portmanteaus never even have a chance to catch on. Either that, or the new word is so clumsy that no one wants to be uncool enough to use it. Ever hear of clopen? That’s closed+open. I’m not even sure what could even be considered clopen.

How about foon? A fork merged with a spoon. Poor foon lost out to spork in the Great Portmanteau Massacre of 1985.

And who doesn’t love brunch, a combination of breakfast and lunch? Unfortunately, its slow country cousins, linner (lunch+dinner) and lupper (lunch+supper) never enjoyed the same popularity and they are now languishing, begging charity in back alleys and hopping freight trains, always searching for the regional dialect that might take them in and give them shelter from obscurity.

Mrs. Parker, however, is bit more skittish.

This brings us back to dear old Frankenstorm that will be making its fierce appearance in less than 24 hours, and is already, it seems, causing a ‘frankenmess’ for airline travelers. It may be named after a horrific monster made out of corpse parts, animated with tremendous electrical power, but I sincerely hope it also has the gentle heart of a creature that has become self-aware, who wants to spare people the fear that its hideous appearance inspires.

A girl can hope, right? But as the saying goes, I’m probably better off expecting the worst.

To all of us in Sandy’s path: fingers crossed, y’all! Stay safe and dry!

Edited to add: Of course I didn’t remember this until after I posted, but here’s a great post on portmanteaus by Stan Carey on the Macmillan Dictionary Blog. He does a better job at explaining a portmanteau than I do. But my post has cats! Does that count?

11 thoughts on “Serious enough for a portmanteau.

    • I know why you don’t like it – because it’s horrible! ;)
      (I clearly don’t like it either.)
      It’s tied to fads that I’m also not particularly fond of, so perhaps that’s another reason it annoys me.

      These storms that get such a big buildup are sometimes as bad as they say, but other times it’s all much ado about nothing. I expect it to be somewhere in between this time, but still hoping for the lighter end of that spectrum. So far, it’s getting windy but hasn’t started raining yet.

  1. I wonder if my favourites get more of an airing in the UK than the US? They’re the ones that concern languages: franglais, spanglish, chinglish and so on. There are others that I’m so used to that I don’t think of them as portmanteu words at all. The Channel Tunnel, linking England and France is of course the ‘Chunnel’: an ‘Oxbridge education’ is denied to those of us who weren’t at University in either Oxford or Cambridge. And who knew that ‘squiggle’ is a portmanteau word (squirm + wiggle)? My personal dislike, because I dislike the concept, is for ‘chuggers’ (charity muggers, signing you up for a lifetime’s giving to a cause you thought was worthwhile till they got their claws into you). Do you have them in the States?

    • We definitely have Spanglish here in the NY area! I’ve heard of all the others as well except for ‘chuggers’. We have them here but just don’t call them chuggers. I think we already have a strong enough association with ‘chug’ and its variants that a new meaning wouldn’t really catch on. ‘Chugging’ is a favorite activity of college students – drinking a pint of beer as fast as they possibly can while everyone else in the room chants, “Chug! Chug! Chug!” Classy, eh? ;)

    • Oh, Margaret, I hate the chuggers (though I hadn’t heard the term before, despite being a UK-er myself)!

      Often, my walk from the office to the train station is like running the gauntlet; they jump and dance about across the street, trying to wave you down like you’re the last taxi of the night. And I even make myself look quite unavailable – head down, earphones in and a fast, purposeful ‘don’t stop me’ walk. But they still do it. It’s embarrassing and annoying!

  2. You have been in my heart, prayers and on my to do list Leonore, but, I’ve been unable to visit either of your blogs for nearly two months as it seems I’ve been in the midst of dealing with one crisis or another! So glad to hear you survived Hurricane Sandy and I wonder if you experienced any traumas from the nor’easter which hit us last Thursday? My saga re “our” visits from Mother Nature is @

    • It certainly has been a hectic fall, hasn’t it? Have you seen Cam again? It’s heartbreaking to think of those little birds in a hurricane or snow storm. I hope she returns!

      We fared well in the hurricane, all things considered. Power out for only 3.5 days and no storm damage beyond 2 or 3 shingles having flown off the roof. The snowstorm had a larger effect on me personally, not because of power outage (we didn’t lose power) but because I had to drive home from work in the height of the storm. A 40-minute commute took me 4.5 hours. I’ve driven through some crazy stuff, but that Wednesday drive was possibly the worst: the conditions, the length, and the dark.

  3. Hi, I just stumbled on this blog while googling portmanteaux. The word “clopen” is a real mathematical term used to describe a set which is both open and closed in the topological sense. (Two examples are the whole real line and the empty set.) It is used by mathematicians, most math students wouldn’t encounter it until perhaps graduate school, and it was never intended to be used in the public sphere.

    Otherwise I really enjoyed reading your article!

    • Thanks so much for that info! I never would have known that. I wrote that a while ago so I can’t remember how I came across the word. I don’t remember anything about its math origin, only that it didn’t catch on in mainstream English.

      (And I was out of town, so I apologize for my delayed response.)

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