I love playing with words.
The English language is full of quirks and oddities—things like puns, palindromes, tongue twisters, spoonerisms, and more. But have you heard of portmanteaus?
I’m glad you asked!
The word portmanteau (pôrt-mănʹ-tō) refers to a large leather suitcase that opens into two hinged compartments. The word is a blend of two French words: porter, which means to carry, and manteau, which means cloak or mantle.
When we’re talking about language, portmanteau takes on a different meaning. In linguistics, a portmanteau is a word that is created when the sounds and meanings of two different words are blended into one.
Still curious about the origin of portmanteaus? The video below offers a light-hearted look at how a few well-known portmanteaus might have gotten their start. 😊
Well, as entertaining as that was, the concept of portmanteau words is actually attributed to storyteller Lewis Carroll. In Through the Looking Glass, Alice asks Humpty Dumpty to help her make sense of the Jabberwocky poem. Humpty Dumpty explains:
“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.”
Humpty Dumpty was exactly right! Portmanteau words (sometimes just called portmanteaus) include brunch (breakfast and lunch), smog (smoke and fog), motel (motor and hotel), and splatter (splash and spatter), to name a few. There are many portmanteaus in the English language, with more being created every day!
Here are a few more examples:
As you can see, portmanteaus are essentially just “made-up” words that have worked their way into our everyday language. The concept of made-up words is pretty funny to children. When I talked about portmanteaus with my children when they were young, my daughter came up with sweems (sweet dreams) right on the spot.
How about you? Can you think of a portmanteau word? Please share in the comments below!