Tittle Tuesday – Portmanteaus

Because your life must be happy… (seems a little strong, but okay!)

 If you’re not sure what a “tittle” is, it’s the mark over a lowercase j and i (I LOVE that it has its own word!) and which brings me into today’s topic – words!

I recently was asked about a post on Facebook talking about “Modern English.” The original poster was complaining about words such as “conversate” and “understandment” (two out the four in the original post; the other two, as far as I could tell, where regional dialects). Merriam Webster has a definition dating from 1811 concerning “conversate,” and they also have a great post on why so many people are turning their noses up at the use of this word – if you have time, I highly recommend reading it https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/is-conversate-a-real-word.

So I’m going to be talking about portmanteaus, which are a fun type of grammar + word. 

In a nutshell, a portmanteau (かばん語 kabango in Japanese) is made when two, or more, parts of words are added together. This is a little different to a compound word, like doorknob and bombshell where both words are kept completely and put together. 

Some words you (may) or may not know started as portmanteaus are: 

  • chortle – from Lewis Carroll, and combining “snort” and “chuckle” together. 
  • bodacious – if your mind went back to Teenage Mutant Turtles, you’re not alone, but the combo is from “bold” and “audacious.” (supposedly from the 1830s!)
  • bromance – a “brother” “romance,” it’s not talking about an incestual relationship, but a very close, brotherly, bond that forms between two men. 
  • snark – is a “snide” “remark” and something that a lot of writers used when describing, well, snarky characters. 🙂
  • hazmat – when you’re working at a nuclear spill, you’re going to want a hazmat suit to clean up all those “hazardous” “materials.” 
  • cosplay – is when you’re wearing a “costume” and “play”ing around having fun. (I’ve got some rather amazing friends who cosplay too, lucky me!)
  • email – remember when it was spelled “e-mail”? Ah, those were the wonder days of “electronic” “mail” – now I tend to get spam. 
  • webinar – I’ve attended a few of these, though the 4am wake up hurts – it’s a “web” “seminar” (I attended a few editing ones through ACE https://aceseditors.org
  • electrocute – suggested in 1881 when someone was killed by “electricity,” and then applied to prisoners who were to be “executed.” 
  • gerrymander – a Massachusetts governor, Elbridge Gerry, decided to redraw the districts in the state for his benefit. One of the districts looks so much like a salamander a portmanteau was created (and pops up during election time in the USA). [Thanks Gerry!]

That’s just ten – the English language (I’m not a native speaker of other languages, so while I’m 99.9% sure these exist around the world, I’ll let people do research to find them in other languages) is FULL of them, and more are being created all the time, and then people forget what they originally were made from. Would anyone like brunch? The smog today is rather bad. I don’t know about you, but I get rather hangry at the end of the day. 

Thinking more about understandment, the “understanding” and “agreement” of an informal pledge, I can see this being used often enough until the original meaning of it becomes forgotten, like “chortle,” and it’s just the word in use. I’m don’t think I would use this in the workplace (not because I dislike the word, but because I wouldn’t trust my company/coworkers with an informal understandment. I work in Japan; I want it in writing.) On the other hand, I think I’ll stand using this with my friends and close family – we always have lots of little informal agreements, and this’ll be a great way to say we understand and agree. 

If I forgot your favorite portmanteau, let me know in the comments!

(Also, if you’re doing #Inktober and another sketching opportunity called #Botanimals, I’ll be releasing my sketches on Twitter https://twitter.com/coffeequills, Instagram http://www.instagram.com/coffeequills, and Pinterest https://pin.it/muxgf4zdbokkgb – today is the start, and the first prompt is “ring” and “daisy x kitten.”)

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