I was enjoying a brunch recently when I saw a story on TV about smog covering a city in the U.S.
So what, you might well ask?
Well, as it turns out ‘brunch’ and ‘smog’ are related to each other in a word sense. They are both what have come to be called portmanteau words.
‘Portmanteau’ is the French word for what is basically a suitcase. I first remember coming across the term in Alice in Wonderland (which is not technically the title, but you know the book I mean), when Humpty Dumpty used it in explaining the poem ‘Jabberwocky’ to Alice. I have seen a number of pieces which say this is the first time the word was used to refer to words itself, rather than a suitcase, so full credit to Lewis Carroll (or Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, to use his real name).
Well, we have taken the concept and run with it. What do you call a meal which combines breakfast and lunch? Well, ‘brunch’, of course. How about air conditions combining smoke and fog? You guessed it – ‘smog’.
There are two things I notice when I look at portmanteau words: How well they combine two ideas into one word, and how often they are invented for a specific purpose.
For instance, 20 years ago, would anyone know what you mean if you talked of Brexit? Then Britain decided to exit the European Union and Boom! A new word came up which described things perfectly.
There are also words that I didn’t realize were portmanteaus until I saw the meaning explained. The video game, TV series, card game, movies and who knows what else about Pokemon which have inundated us in the past couple of decades don’t even bother to explain that the name came from the combination of ‘pocket’ and ‘monster’. When you hear about the latest political scandal being referred to as ‘(Latest)-gate’, how many people remember the original scandal, Watergate, so named after the hotel where the politically inspired break-in took place?
Speaking of hotels, if you’ve been driving all day, you might want to look for a ‘motel’ to spend the night at. You know, a ‘motor’ ‘hotel’.
Technically, portmanteau words have been around for centuries, since well before Lewis Carroll and Alice. After all, a ‘shepherd’ is simply someone who is a herder of sheep, and to be ‘dumbfounded’ is to be confounded into dumbness, or silence.
And portmanteau words are still coming fast and furious (which would be a great title for a movie series, wouldn’t it?), thanks mainly to high-tech. After all if you decide to fire up your ‘modem’ and send an ‘e-mail’ while you wait for your ‘webinar’ to start, well, what can I say.
What do you think about this story?