A portmanteau word is a blended word formed by taking a part from two (or more)
distinct words and putting them together to form a new word. It differs from a contraction
– contractions combine words that would normally appear consecutively in a sentence,
like “does not” (doesn’t) or “I will” (I’ll), whereas portmanteau words take two
separate words that describe the similar ideas and combining them to create a descriptive
word for an object.
The first instance in which portmanteau was used to mean a blending of words was
in 1871, in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass. One of the characters,
Humpty Dumpty, states, “You see it’s like a portmanteau – there are two meanings
packed up into one word.” The etymology of portmanteau comes from porter,
the French word meaning “to carry,” and manteau, the Old French word for
“cloak.” In 1871, the English word portmanteau indicated a suitcase. Carroll was
the first to use portmanteau to signal a combination of two words.
Examples of portmanteau words
Today, we use many portmanteau words on a daily basis. A few of the popular (and
funny!) ones are:
Alphanumeric – alphabetic + numeric – describes something, usually a password
or username online, containing both numbers and letters.
Brunch – breakfast + lunch – used to describe a meal eaten between the “normal”
breakfast and lunch times, perhaps around 10 – 11 am.
Chillax – chill + relax – used to describe a combination of “chilling out”
(calming down) and relaxing.
Email – electronic + mail – used to describe correspondence (mail) sent electronically
via the Internet.
Guesstimate – guess + estimate – used to describe a guess made with some
external indicators, but likely not as accurate as a scientific or mathematical
Jeggings – jeans + leggings – a pair of leggings made to look like denim
Liger – lion + tiger – a crossbreed of animal resulting from a male lion
and a female tiger.
Manbag – man + handbag – used to describe a bag guys’ carry. It’s (usually)
not a purse.
Microsoft – microcomputer + software – software for your computer.
Skort – skirt + shorts – used to describe an article of clothing that is
a cross between a skirt and a pair of shorts.
Smog – smoke + fog – used to describe smoky fog, a visible sign of air pollution.
Spanglish – Spanish + English – used to describe a mixture of English and
Spork – spoon + fork – a utensil that is half spoon, half fork. Many restaurants
give these to guests to avoid having to provide both a spoon and a fork.
Tofurkey – tofu + turkey – used to describe tofu that looks and tastes like
turkey, but is entirely meatless.