Friday, March 28, 2014


I recently heard someone use the word "momager." I wondered, what do you call a word like "momager" that is a combination of other words? The answer--a portmanteau.

A portmanteau is a blend of the sounds and definitions of two or more words:

-smog (smoke + fog)
-guesstimate (guess + estimate)
-brunch (breakfast + lunch)

Many portmanteau words have become new, recognized words unto themselves, and we've forgotten that they're really blended words. Consider "gerrymander" (Gerry + salamander). The word was first used in 1812* to describe Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry's redrawing of the state's election districts. One of the re-drawn districts resembled a salamander, and a new word was born.

We even find portmanteau words in the law, such as "breathalyzer," which comes from "breath" and "analyzer." And "carjack" (car + hijack). And the subject of the recent Hobby Lobby case--the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare (Obama + healthcare).

There are tons of fun portmanteau words:

-infomercial (information + commercial)
-staycation (stay + vacation)
-netiquette (internet + etiquette)
-emoticon (emotion + icon)

If portmanteau is ever a Jeopardy answer, you'll be ready! Happy Friday!

*However, the term "portmanteau" wasn't used until 60 years later. In his 1871 book, Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll first used "portmanteau" (a piece of luggage with two compartments) to refer to a blended word.

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