Friday, July 24, 2015

Where do New Words Come From? Portmanteau

by Lori Hatcher @LoriHatcher2

The endless scroll of commercial messages flashed across the screen in the periphery of the coffee shop where I was enjoying brunch—Medicare, an upcoming telethon, a new sitcom, and a documentary about Army paratroopers. 
Add to this the distraction of the new ezine that had just arrived in my email box, and you can understand why I was struggling to compose my latest blog post.

I decided to investigate a word I hadn’t heard since high school English class, but recently stumbled across, portmanteau.

The website defines the word portmanteau (pawrt-MAN-toh) as “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.” Unlike a compound word, it can have a completely different meaning from the words from which it was coined.

If you’ll look back to the first paragraph of this blog post, you’ll find nine portmanteau words. Can you spot them? The answers are at the bottom of the post. To get you started, I’ll tell you that the word blog is a portmanteau. It comes from the words web and log. The term "weblog" was coined by Jorn Barger in December 1997. The shorter version, "blog," was coined by Peter Merholz, who, in April or May of 1999, broke the word weblog into the phrase "we blog" in the sidebar of his weblog.**

As writers, we have the joy of painting beautiful word pictures, composing stirring word sonnets, and yes, even creating completely unique words. Like Lewis Carroll, who birthed slithy and mimsy, in his famous poem, “Jabberwocky,” we are free to coin a new word if those available to us are insufficient.

Have you ever combed through a dictionary of synonyms, searching in vain for just the right word? Be frustrated no more. Enter the portmanteau. There’s nothing more delightful than a well-turned phrase or a unique coinage. Writers appreciate it, and so do readers.

I worked with a short, round, curly-headed dental hygienist in my early years of practice. After a difficult patient or a long day, she’d rub her hand across her forehead, let out a great sigh, and exclaim, “I’m about to SURMISE!” A portmanteau that combines the words surrender and demise, surmise described her feelings better than any other word in her vocabulary.

My buff cocker spaniel puppy, Polly, inspired my first original portmanteau. Trying to capture how she acted as she bounced and raced and wiggled around the house after her bath, I told my husband, “She feels SPRIGGLY.”

Spriggly, like surmise, has become a permanent addition to our family lexicon.

If you’re struggling with boredom in your writing, why not stretch your creativity by creating your own portmanteau? Then find a way to include it in your writing. And share it with us in the comment box below so we can appreciate your genius. Portmanteau, says, “attracts readers’ attention as readers enjoy and appreciate this subtle demonstration of word play.”

It’s also good, clean, nerdy, writer fun. And we can all use more fun in our lives.

Now it's your turn. What words have you invented? Share in the comments section below - you'll never know what may catch on!

Where do new words come from? Portmanteau from author @LoriHatcher2 on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Playing with words - Portmanteau - via @LoriHatcher2 on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Answers: Portmanteau in the first paragraph: brunch, Medicare, telethon, sitcom, documentary, paratroopers, ezine, email,  blog.

Lori Hatcher is the editor of Reach Out, Columbia magazine and the author of two devotional books. Her second, Hungry for God…Starving for Time, 5-Minute Devotions for Busy Women released in December. A blogger, writing instructor, and women’s ministry speaker, her goal is to help women connect with God in the craziness of life. You’ll find her pondering the marvelous and the mundane on her blog, Hungry for God…Starving for Time. Connect with her on FacebookTwitter (@LoriHatcher2), or Pinterest (Hungry for God).


  1. Lori This is a great article. I now know a new word and it's meaning: Portmanteau. We give our animals portmanteau names all the time. We had a cat named B.B. Gato (Big Boy Gato; gato is spanish for cat). He was very skittish; jumped at everything. He would spring in the air; all four paws in the air, and then continue walking like nothing happened. We started calling him Bingy. B. and springy.

    1. Ha! You did a great job of describing him, Cherrilynn. Thanks for that word picture:)

  2. I have to agree with Cherrilynn. I've learned a new word and it's true meaning. I always had the idea that portmanteau was a piece of luggage, like a trunk or chest!

    The cats around our house generally end up with portmanteaus for names. BP (Bottomless Pit), BB (BP's Baby) and so on. Since most of them are friendly ferals, it's easier to pin such a moniker on them until we get to know them.

    By the time we get to know them, the descriptive names have taken hold!

  3. Carrie, you're not mistaken. The primary meaning for portmanteau IS a two-compartment suitcase, hence the application to a two-part word. Good memory and vocabulary--I'm impressed!

  4. I'm glad to know I didn't make up the meaning of portmanteau! A suitcase is what popped into my mind when I saw the word in your post. Thanks for an interesting blog.