Portmanteau – A Guest Post

A guest post from the delightful and witty Rob Howell is always a pleasure. So let’s go play with our words along with him! What is your favorite to create after you read this? 

You might know that portmanteau is a great word, but do you know just how wondersational it really is?

In medieval French, portemanteau meant “the “court official who carried a prince’s mantle” as of about the 1540s. This is fairly easy to see. “Porte” is the imperative of porter, which means “to carry.” Hence we get porter. “Manteau” is simply mantle.

In other words, “Hey, you, go carry that cloak.”

In the 1580s, it shifted to the more modern meaning: “traveling case or bag for clothes and other necessaries.”

While that’s still a current meaning of the word, it’s the not the one I find most fun. My favorite meaning is, of course, the combining of parts of two or more words to form another. Motel is a mashing of motor and hotel, for example.

The technical definition of a portmanteau in linguistics is: a single morph that is analyzed as representing two (or more) underlying morphemes. This means words like starfish or foreshadowing are compounds using two full words are not actually portmanteaus.

Now that we’ve got the boring linguistics stuff out of the way, lets get to the true magic of the word.

Did you know you can say tigons, ligers, and bears and be right? A tigon is a male tiger crossed with a female lion. A male lion and a female tiger is, obviously, a liger.

How fun is that?

OK, maybe I’m easily amused.

I bet eating a turducken with a spork is really difficult, but maybe delicious with a Cambozola cheese on the side. That actually sounds really gouda… (Sorry, I can’t help making cheese puns, even if they are a non sequitur).

Did I mention easily amused?


Here’s a portmanteau you probably use quite often. “Velours” is French for velvet. “Crochet” is French for hook (which is useful to know if your sweetie crochets everything). However, if you attach one to the other, you get Velcro. (Attach. See what I did there?)

Very easily amused, am I. Very.

Unlike most words, we have a specific time when it was first applied to this usage. The first person to say portmanteau in this way was….

Wait for it…

Humpty Dumpty.

No, really. Totally was.

OK, fine, it was Lewis Carroll having good ole’ Hump (as he’s called by his friends) speak to Alice in Through the Looking Glass. He said, “You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.”

“Slithy,” by the way, is a portmanteau: slimy and lithe. “Mimsy” is one too: miserable and flimsy.

Speaking of amusement, now I’m wondering how many of you will spend hours scouring Jabberwocky for all the portmanteaus you can find. Bwa ha, bwa ha ha. For mine is an evil laugh.

But here’s the best part of it all.

Now when you use your Garmin (Gary and Min founded the company) to find a motel in Texarkana (or somewhere in Eurasia) and then undo the velcro holding something in your luggage, you can now let your mind drift to Alice in Wonderland and Lewis Carroll’s imagination.

And ain’t that spifftastic?


19 thoughts on “Portmanteau – A Guest Post

  1. When I was a kid, a motel was one floor and a hotel was two or more floors. Across the street from our house was an edifice that was part single and part two-story. Its name? The Mo-Ho-Tel.

    1. In my experience the difference was whether the suite/room door led to the great outdoors.

  2. One I’ve heard a lot among the High School crowd is “giganormous” – apparently something larger than both gigantic and enormous.

    Used at RedQuarters – bedoveled (when the doves take over the patio and birdbath) and bedovelment. -afourfoots (as in “The cat is afourfoots.” [From Sherlock Holmes, “The game is afoot.”])

  3. It’s late and only snarky Labradoodles come to mind. But they’re such fun to create.

    Hmm.. Let me see what I remember… Twas brillig… Outgrabe? Maybe. Frumious… Manxome? Burbled… Gallumphing. My.. Something… Beamish? Frabjuous!

    Yes. Gracious is just the word for this post!

  4. I love the word portmanteau. In my RPG world, I have a large port city on the edge of a waterfall, next to a mountain range. Having decided most people can’t pronounce the actual Dwarven name of the city, I decided its nickname is Port Mont-Eau.

    1. That’s awesomely bad! I love it.

      Definitely passes the “smell” test 😀

Comments are closed.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: