What Does Portmanteau Mean? | Definition & Examples

Rhetoric updated on  May 31, 2024 3 min read
A portmanteau is a word created by combining two other words. Usually, the spellings and meanings of two words are blended into a new one, like “brunch” (breakfast + lunch) or “motel” (motor + hotel). Portmanteau words help us describe new phenomena or concepts.
Portmanteau examples
I decided to invite my friends over for a chillaxing evening. [chill + relax]
Sorry for snapping at you before. I was hangry. [hungry + angry]
This year we opted for a weekend of glamping. [glamorous + camping]
Sporks allow you to scoop and stab with a single utensil. [spoon + fork]

Portmanteaus are commonly used in everyday language, social media, advertising, and literary works.

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.

Portmanteau meaning


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”:

“Well, ‘SLITHY’ means ‘lithe and slimy.’ ‘Lithe’ is the same as ‘active.’ You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.”

The term caught on in linguistic circles and became widely used to describe blended words.

Portmanteau examples


Portmanteaus are common in casual speech, business, the media, and literature. Here are some common examples.

Common portmanteau words
Amtrak (American + track)
breathalyzer (breath + analyzer)
Brexit (Britain + exit)
bromance (brother + romance)
chortle (chuckle + snort)
cosplay (costume + play)
cronut (croissant + donut)
dramedy (drama + comedy)
emoticon (emotion + icon)
frenemy (friend + enemy)
fortnight (fourteen + nights)
labradoodle (labrador + poodle)
malware (malicious + software)
Medicare (medical + care)
mockumentary (mock + documentary)
Netflix (internet + flicks, slang for movies)
podcast (iPod + broadcast)
smog (smoke + fog)
Spotify (spot + identify)
splatter (splash + spatter)
staycation (stay + vacation)
velcro (velours, French for velvet, + crochet, French for hook)
webinar (web + seminar)

Do you want to know more about commas, parts of speech, email, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


Verbs

Nouns

Rhetoric

Present participle

Concrete noun

Oxymoron

Linking verb

Common noun

Double entendre

Auxiliary verb

Abstract noun

Sibilance

Simple present tense

Proper noun

Cliché

Modal verb

Appositive

Paraprosdokian


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.

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Kassiani

Kassiani has an academic background in Communication, Bioeconomy and Circular Economy. As a former journalist she enjoys turning complex information into easily accessible articles to help others.

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