What is a portmanteau?
A portmanteau (also called a blend) is a literary device in which two or more words are joined together by merging or dropping some letters and sounds. This results in a new word that refers to a new concept.
More specifically, a portmanteau is a form of wordplay: a clever manipulation of words for humorous, creative, or rhetorical effect, similar to onomatopoeia or oxymorons.
Because portmanteau words can serve as a shorthand for new trends or phenomena, like “athleisure” or “frenemies,” they help us convey complex ideas more succinctly. Due to this, they often feature in news headlines and social media posts. Portmanteaus are also attention grabbing and help writers engage with their audience. Many newly coined portmanteaus have become so widespread that they have become part of the lexicon.
The word “portmanteau” is itself a portmanteau. It is a word of French origin that describes a two-part suitcase and combines the words “porte,” meaning “to carry,” and “manteau,” meaning “cloak.” Similar to the suitcase, a portmanteau word carries the meaning of two or more words.
Lewis Carroll used the term portmanteau to describe a blend word for the first time in his novel Through the Looking-Glass. In chapter 6, Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice the meaning of “slithy”:
Portmanteaus are common in casual speech, business, the media, and literature. Here are some common examples.
Frequently asked questions about portmanteau
What is the difference between a contraction and a portmanteau?
Contractions and portmanteaus are similar because they’re both formed by combining two words and omitting some letters. However, they’re not interchangeable.
- Contractions typically combine two words that are often used together (e.g., “have not” becomes “haven’t”). A contraction and its uncontracted form have the exact same meaning.
- A portmanteau is formed by blending two words together to create a new word with a new meaning. For example, “staycation” is a combination of the verb “stay” and the noun “vacation.” A portmanteau is a type of neologism.
What is the difference between a compound word and a portmanteau?
Compound words and portmanteaus can be easily confused because they both combine multiple words into one. However there is a difference between them.
- In compound words, both words remain intact when joined together into a single unit (e.g., basket + ball = basketball).
- In portmanteau words, on the other hand, some of the letters are removed (e.g., flexible + vegetarian = flexitarian).
What is a portmanteau for air pollution?
A portmanteau for air pollution is “smog,” from the words smoke and fog. An alternative portmanteau is “smaze,” from smoke and haze.