Word of the Day “portmanteau”!

Written by Jennifer Lacano

Today’s word of the day is cheating a little bit. Why, you ask? Well, because the word – portmanteau – describes a category of words, and I’m going to share a few words from this category with you today.

First of all, what is a portmanteau? According to Wikipedia, the word comes from the term “portmanteau luggage,” which refers to a trunk or piece of luggage that opens into two parts. (This word in turn came from two French words, porter – to carry, and manteau – coat, though now in French, a portmanteau is a coat rack.) Here’s a picture of portmanteau luggage:

 So very Titanic, no?
(credit: http://sp.theyoungriderstv.net/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/safe_image.jpg)

So what exactly is a portmanteau word? As the origin of the term implies, it is a word that comes from combining two other words. The resulting word takes some of the form and meaning from each of the originals but has its own meaning. A few examples should help you understand…

webinar = web + seminar (a seminar done over the internet)
staycation = stay + vacation (a vacation taken without leaving your own town)
babymoon = baby + honeymoon (a last vacation before having a baby)
frenemy = friend + enemy (someone who acts like a friend but is really a rival/enemy)
Brangelina = Brad + Angelina (perhaps the most famous celebrity couple alive right now)

As you can see, portmanteaux are often informal or slang terms. However, some have become common words you could find in a dictionary or textbook:

smog = smoke + fog (You can also find this over L.A.!)
vitamin = vital + amine (necessary nutrients for your survival)
telemarketing = telephone + marketing (If you don’t know what this is, consider yourself lucky!)
blog = web + log (what you are reading right now!)

Other portmanteaux have become some of the most recognized corporate names in America:

Amtrak = American + track (America’s passenger railroad service)
Comcast = communication + broadcast (the largest cable company in the world)
Microsoft = microcomputer + software (I don’t really need to explain this one, do I?)

Some of my personal favorites are:

spork = spoon + fork (such a useful utensil! It can spear things and help you slurp soup!)

(photo credit: “Spork” by Jason L. Gohlke – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons)

keytar = keyboard + guitar (a musical instrument made famous by local Boston celebrity Keytar Bear!)

(photo credit: http://blog.thebostoncalendar.com/)

and fakecation… Here are a couple of photos to help you figure out this last one…

fakecation cropped
legs or hot dogs on my tropical fakecation?


neither! They are fingers! in my office! (maybe I should take off my ring next time though…)
Do you have portmanteau words in your language?

What other English portmanteaux do you know?

Let us know in the comments!

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