A "portmanteau" is a blend of two (or more) distinct words to create a single new word that combines the meanings of the original words. More famous examples include brunch, smog, and spork. Portmanteau words should not be confused with syllabic abbreviations such as sitcom, Interpol, and parsec.

This usage of the word "portmanteau" (which originally was a French word for a small suitcase), was coined by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass, when Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice the meaning of the strange words in "Jabberwocky"...

"Well, 'slithy' means 'lithe' and 'slimy'... You see it's like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word... 'Mimsy' is 'flimsy' and 'miserable' (there's another portmanteau for you)."

From this specific meaning, the word "portmanteau" has come to take on a general meaning of any idea or concept that carries multiple or mixed elements or meanings. For example, a movie reviewer might say that the film "was a portmanteau of tired cliches and hackneyed dialogue" and an anthopologist might point out that "The word 'culture' is a portmanteau that can mean many things to different people."

Linguists have also taken up the word and created the technical linguistics term "portmanteau morpheme" to describe morphemes that fuse two or more grammatical categories. Linguists reserve "portmanteau" for this usage only, ignoring Carroll's original intent, and refer to portmanteau words by the less interesting term "blends."

But getting back to Carroll's definition of a portmanteau word, here are some notable portmanteaus (or "portmanteaux," if you're feeling particularly French today):

Awake upon the path littered in my wake
	noisome memories left behind
	rake you through the loom
That leads along a lie at last that love
	alone would loathe to live
	lost, leaching, and laboring

Nevertheless, and always the lesser
crescendo cedes to climax,
tilting misconception 'til conceived 

Awake upon the path littered in my wake
	sidewalk cracks along your face 
	parlay my passing eyes
Into pell-mell passersby, tripping
	a plenary pile of persiflage growing
	peu à peu, like paellastrami phyllos
A human portmanteau.

The center cannot hold unless the roots grow deep
Grow your roots son
Grow deep

Port*man"teau (?), n.; pl. Portmanteaus (#). [F. porte-manteau; porter to carry + manteau a cloak, mantle. See Port to carry, and Mantle.]

A bag or case, usually of leather, for carrying wearing apparel, etc., on journeys.



© Webster 1913.

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