If I went back in time to the 1970s and slipped this sentence into conversation I’m sure I’d be given a lot of confused stares. Some of you may not even understand it today! In recent years these portmanteaus, among others, have been becoming more popular in English. New words are constantly being created and added to languages, and with each new generation comes a whole host of new buzz words.
A portmanteau is a word that has been created by combining two other words. They are often created to fill a gap in the dictionary and can be very helpful; how else could we describe glamorous camping in one word? Or a meal eaten between breakfast and lunch? You may not even realise that some words we use everyday are portmanteaus, for example ‘smog’ (from smoke and fog), ‘breathalyser’ (from breath analyser) and ‘camcorder’ (from camera and recorder). The word portmanteau itself was first used to describe this kind of neologism by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass. It was intended as a metaphor: ‘portmanteau’ is a suitcase with two compartments, and so a portmanteau word is a word where two halves combine to make a whole. Lewis Carroll also contributed some portmanteaus to the English language, including ‘chortle’, from ‘chuckle’ and ‘snort’.
All these new words giving you a headache? Well, spare a thought for English learners, who are left baffled by these invented terms, which in some cases are only used in spoken language or popular culture and so will not be found in any dictionary. And even when they look similar, their meaning can be very different, for example a ‘tanorexic’ is someone addicted to tanning, but a ‘manorexic’ is not someone addicted to men. Portmanteaus have become increasingly popular thanks to social network sites like Twitter, where character restrictions mean it’s important to say what you want in the most concise way possible. The challenge for language learners, however, is when these portmanteaus creep into everyday life, in conversations, newspaper articles and on television.
English isn’t the only language that has this phenomenon. Germans have recently come up with the word ‘teuro’, a blend of the words ‘teuer’, meaning expensive, and ‘Euro’. One language where portmanteaus are common is Galician, an example is the word ‘millenta’ meaning ‘many thousands’, from the words ‘milleiro’ (one thousand) and ‘cento’ (one hundred).
Recent portmanteaus, like jeggings or Brangelina, seem to have had the Marmite effect on people – you either love them or hate them! But chillax – in a few years time you may not even remember a time without these words!