Word-Of-the-Week #1015: Portmanteau

January 18, 2024 by  

Portmanteaua new word formed by joining two others and combining their meanings.

Do you love going out for brunch, staying at motels, or playing Pokémon? Have you ever wondered how they came up with the word Bollywood?

This week I thought I’d keep it light and share this word that I have only seen when I play the New York Times crossword puzzle. Excerpts are taken from the Reader’s Digest website.

“The new word draws meaning from the words it comes from, creating a word that’s clever and often slang-y—but not always!

Wouldn’t you know it, portmanteau is an autological word—a word that describes itself. That is, portmanteau is a portmanteau! It comes from the French words porter and manteau, meaning “to carry” and “cloak”/”coat,” respectively. Yes, neither of those have anything to do with words, but the primary, more literal definition of portmanteau is “a large trunk or suitcase.”

Biopic (biography + picture) – A biographical film (long ago we called movies “pictures”)

Bollywood (Bombay + Hollywood) – The Hindi film industry based in Mumbai.

Botox – This common cosmetic surgery’s name has an almost branded feel to it, but it’s just a portmanteau of botulinum toxin.

Brunch – Brunches have become such a big deal in our culture that it’s easy to forget what a simple, quintessential portmanteau word this is, born from breakfast and lunch.

Cosplay – A specific type of dress-up where people take on the persona of a fictional character, often for a big event like Comic-Con, cosplay comes from costume and role-play.

Electrocute – In an example of a word whose meaning has been diluted over time, electrocute comes from electricity and, yes, execute. It specifically denotes death by electric shock. While it’s come to be accepted as meaning just “injure,” too, going by the original intent of the word, if you experience a strong electric shock and you’re still alive afterward, you technically haven’t been electrocuted.

Motel – You might think that hotel and motel are just words for overnight lodging with arbitrary first letters. While hotel comes from the French hôtel, motel is a 20th-century portmanteau combining the existing hotel with motor. This was in response to the rise in cross-country highways and the need to accommodate roadside travelers.

Newscast – Nope, newscast is not a stand-alone word! It comes from news and broadcast, and first popped up around the late 1920s.

Pokémon – This massively successful video game franchise has a name that’s become ubiquitous, but its origin is delightfully quaint. It’s a combination of pocket and monster, hence how the Pokémon trainers are able to summon the creatures from pocket-sized Poké Balls.

Sitcom – situational comedy

Smog – Ooh, a one-syllable portmanteau! Smog refers to a thick, often pollutant-ridden smoky fog. Yup, smog is a combo of smoke and fog!

These are just a few but there are lots more portmanteaus to be discovered!!

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