Portmanteau Definition

Portmanteau is a literary device in which two or more words are joined together to coin a new word. A portmanteau word is formed by blending parts of two or more words but it always refers to a single concept.

The coinage of portmanteau involves the linking and blending of two or more words and the new word formed in the process shares the same meanings as the original words. It is different from a compound word in that it could have a completely different meaning from the words that it was coined from. Portmanteau, on the other hand, shares the same semantic features. For example, the word “brunch” is formed by splicing two words “breakfast” and “lunch”. The spliced parts “br-” and “-unch” are blended to form a portmanteau word “brunch” which is the meal taken between breakfast and lunch. Interestingly, the word portmanteau is formed by blending two French words i.e. Porter (carry) and Manteau (cloak).

Common Portmanteau Examples

In modern times, portmanteau words have entered the English language regularly. We see their widespread coinage in different fields of life. No doubt, they are both useful and interesting. Below is a list of examples of portmanteau words nowadays.

  • education + entertainment = edutainment
  • fan + magazine = fanzine
  • cyberspace + magazine = cyberzine
  • Oxford + Cambridge = Oxbridge
  • telephone + marathon = telethon
  • medical + care = Medicare
  • parachute + troops = paratroops
  • motor + hotel = motel
  • camera + recorder = camcorder
  • web + log = blog
  • iPod + broadcasting = podcasting

Examples of Portmanteau in Art and Entertainment

The world of art and entertainment is replete with portmanteau examples such as:

  • britcom, from British and comedy (see also: sitcom)
  • californication, from California and fornication
  • cassingle, from cassette and single
  • cosplay, from costume and play
  • dramedy, from drama and comedy
  • religulous, from religion and ridiculous
  • sacrilicious, from sacrilege and delicious (Homer Simpson)
  • scanlation, from scan and translation
  • sitcom, from situational and comedy
  • slurve, form slider and curve (baseball pitches)
  • spife, spoon and knife
  • spork, spoon and fork
  • streetbal, from street and basketball

Examples of Portmanteau in Literature

Example #1

In literature, Lewis Carroll introduces the term Portmanteau in his novel “Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There”. In chapter 6, Humpty Dumpty explains the meaning of “slithy” and “mimsy” in the nonsense poem “Jabberwocky”. He says that “slithy” is “lithe and slimy” and “mimsy” is “flimsy and miserable”. He tells Alice:

“You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.”

Example #2

James Joyce extensively uses portmanteau words in his novel “Finnegans Wake”. For instance:

  • Ethiquetical is formed from ethics and etiquette.
  • Blinkhards is coined from Dutch blinken (= to shine) and the English to blink.
  • “Stop his laysense. Ink him!” Laysense comes from two words layman and sense.
  • Sinduced is from sin and seduced.
  • Comeday is from someday and comedy.
  • Fadograph is formed from fading and photograph.

Example #3

Charles Dickens is famous for giving his characters portmanteau names. Such names correspond with the character’s disposition as well. For instance, there is a character named Mr. Tulkinghorn, a stout lawyer, in Bleakhouse. Tulking is modification of bulking and horn suggests an injurious nature. Similarly, Mr. Boythorn in Bleakhouse is a compounding of “boyhood” referring to his goodness of heart and “thorn” pointing to his loud and harsh nature. Moreover, Mr. Murdstone seems to come from “murderer” and “stone” that refers to coldness. In “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” The name Crisparkle is a blending of two words i.e. “Christian” that manifests his goodness and “sparkle” that reflects his boy-like temperament.

Functions of Portmanteau

One of the many factors that distinguish the English language from other languages of the world is the scope it offers for creativity through literary devices such as portmanteau. The existence of portmanteau words rightly testifies to this creative factor in English language where entirely new words with a unique meaning of their own are formed by blending parts of two or more totally different words. Writers are interested in such coinages because it allows them to add creativity to their work which consequently adds the element of interest in their literary texts. Moreover, it attracts readers’ attention as readers enjoy and appreciates this subtle demonstration of word play.

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1 comment for “Portmanteau

  1. amy
    October 20, 2015 at 7:26 am

    thanks for your help:)

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