P is for Portmanteau
Written by Kerry E.B. Black
Readers familiar with the French language may wonder why an article about interesting literary devices states “P is for Portmanteau,” because portmanteau means coat rack.
Before it meant coat rack, though, it was a piece of specialized luggage from France that contained two compartments. It translated from Porter (to carry) and manteau (Coat). Some British still use the term portmanteau for specialized luggage.
For the purposes of this article, however, the literary use of the word will be explored.
Lewis Carroll had Humpty Dumpty explain to his Alice, “You see, it’s like a portmanteau. There are two meanings packed up within one word.” Mr. Carroll sprinkled his work with the device, including “Slithy” (slimy and lithe) and mimsy (flimsy and miserable).
A portmanteau fuss both the sounds and the meanings of two or more words, using part of each, to create a new word.
“Motel” combines “motor” and “hotel.” “Smog” blends “smoke” and “fog.” When referring to the two oldest universities in the UK, some combine “Oxford” and “Cambridge” to create “Oxbridge.”
In business, the practice takes the form of company names such as “Amtrack” (American Railroad tracks) or new positions like “permalance” (a permanent freelancer). Combining ideas in marketing adds such terms as advertainment (advertising and entertainment), informercial (information and commercial), and advertorial (advertisement and editorial).
In politics, “Gerrymander” is named after the scheme of Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry who contrived a political redistricting policy where the new lines squiggled like a salamander. In Africa, the combining of Zanzibar and Tanganyika became Tanzania. A city along the Texas and Arkansas border is called Texarkana.
Hollywood foists portmanteau upon its adoring fans by combining the names of popular acting couples, as in “Bradgelina” (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie). Desilu Productions combined the talents of Desi Arnez and Lucille Ball.
Portmanteau differs from contractions, because contractions form from words that would otherwise appear together in a sequence and utilize an apostrophe. (do plus not equals don’t.)
Likewise, it differs from compound words because compounds do not involve the truncation of parts of the stems of the blended words. The original words remain intact. For example, a starfish is a compound word. If it were a portmanteau, it would probably be “stish.”