Return to Portmanteau (idea)

A "portmanteau" is a blend of two (or more) distinct words to create a single new word that combines the meanings of the original words. More famous examples include brunch, smog, and spork. Portmanteau words should not be confused with syllabic abbreviations such as sitcom, Interpol, and parsec.

This usage of the word "portmanteau" (which originally was a French word for a small suitcase), was coined by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass, when Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice the meaning of the strange words in "Jabberwocky"...

"Well, 'slithy' means 'lithe' and 'slimy'... You see it's like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word... 'Mimsy' is 'flimsy' and 'miserable' (there's another portmanteau for you)."

From this specific meaning, the word "portmanteau" has come to take on a general meaning of any idea or concept that carries multiple or mixed elements or meanings. For example, a movie reviewer might say that the film "was a portmanteau of tired cliches and hackneyed dialogue" and an anthopologist might point out that "The word 'culture' is a portmanteau that can mean many things to different people."

Linguists have also taken up the word and created the technical linguistics term "portmanteau morpheme" to describe morphemes that fuse two or more grammatical categories. Linguists reserve "portmanteau" for this usage only, ignoring Carroll's original intent, and refer to portmanteau words by the less interesting term "blends."

But getting back to Carroll's definition of a portmanteau word, here are some notable portmanteaus (or "portmanteaux," if you're feeling particularly French today):

Existing:


Non-Existing: