For other uses, see Portmanteau (disambiguation).

A portmanteau (i/pɔːrtˈmænt/, /ˌpɔːrtmænˈt/; plural portmanteaus or portmanteaux /-ˈtz/) or portmanteau word is a linguistic blend of words,[1] in which parts of multiple words, or their phones (sounds), and their meanings are combined into a new word.[1][2][3] A portmanteau word fuses both the sounds and the meanings of its components, as in smog, coined by blending smoke and fog,[2][4] or motel, from motor and hotel.[5] In linguistics, a portmanteau is defined as a single morph that represents two or more morphemes.[6][7][8][9]

The definition overlaps with the grammatical term contraction, but contractions are formed from words that would otherwise appear together in sequence, such as do and not to make don't, whereas a portmanteau word is formed by combining two or more existing words that all relate to a singular concept which the portmanteau describes. A portmanteau also differs from a compound, which does not involve the truncation of parts of the stems of the blended words. For instance, starfish is a compound, not a portmanteau, of star and fish; whereas a hypothetical portmanteau of star and fish might be stish.


The word "portmanteau" was first used in this context by Lewis Carroll in the book Through the Looking-Glass (1871),[10] in which Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice the coinage of the unusual words in Jabberwocky,[11] where "slithy" means "slimy and lithe" and "mimsy" is "miserable and flimsy." Humpty Dumpty explains the practice of combining words in various ways by telling Alice:

You see it's like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.

In his introduction to The Hunting of the Snark, Carroll uses "portmanteau" when discussing lexical selection:

Humpty Dumpty's theory, of two meanings packed into one word like a portmanteau, seems to me the right explanation for all. For instance, take the two words "fuming" and "furious." Make up your mind that you will say both words, but leave it unsettled which you will say first … if you have the rarest of gifts, a perfectly balanced mind, you will say "frumious."[11]

In then-contemporary English, a portmanteau was a suitcase that opened into two equal sections. The etymology of the word is the French porte-manteau, from porter, to carry, and manteau, cloak (from Old French mantel, from Latin mantellum).[12] In modern French, a porte-manteau is a clothes valet, a coat-tree or similar article of furniture for hanging up jackets, hats, umbrellas and the like.[13][14][15] It has also been used especially in Europe as a formal description for hat racks from the French words porter (to carry) and manteau (cloak).

An occasionally-used synonym for "portmanteau word" is frankenword, itself an autological word exemplifying the phenomenon it describes, blending "Frankenstein" and "word".

Examples in English

Main article: List of portmanteaux

Standard English


The original "Gerrymander" pictured in an 1812 cartoon. The word is a portmanteau of Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry's name with "salamander."

Many neologisms are examples of blends, but many blends have become part of the lexicon.[11] In Punch in 1896, the word brunch (breakfast + lunch) was introduced as a "portmanteau word."[16] In 1964, the newly independent African republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar chose the portmanteau word Tanzania as its name. Similarly Eurasia is a portmanteau of Europe and Asia.

Some city names are portmanteaux of the border regions they straddle: Texarkana spreads across the Texas-Arkansas-Louisiana border, while Calexico and Mexicali are respectively the American and Mexican sides of a single conurbation. A scientific example is a liger, which is a cross between a male lion and a female tiger (a tigon or tiglon is a similar cross in which the male is a tiger).

Many company or brand names are portmanteaus, including Microsoft, a portmanteau of microcomputer and software; the cheese "Cambozola" combines a similar rind to "Camembert" with the same mold used to make "Gorgonzola"; passenger rail company "Amtrak", a portmanteau of "America" and "track"; "Velcro", a portmanteau of the French "Velours" (velvet) and "Crochet" (hook); "Verizon," a portmanteau of "veritas" (Latin for truth) and "horizon," and ComEd (A Chicago-area electric utility company) a portmanteau of "Commonwealth" and Edison (Thomas Edison).

"Jeoportmanteau!" is a recurring category on the American television quiz show Jeopardy!. The category's name is itself a portmanteau of the words "Jeopardy" and "portmanteau." Responses in the category are portmanteaux constructed by fitting two words together.


Portmanteau words may be produced by joining together proper nouns with common nouns, such as "gerrymandering," which refers to the scheme of Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry for politically contrived re-districting; the perimeter of one of the districts thereby created resembled a very curvy salamander in outline. The term gerrymander has itself contributed to portmanteau terms bjelkemander and playmander.

Oxbridge is a common portmanteau for the UK's two oldest universities, those of Oxford and Cambridge.

Many portmanteau words receive some use but do not appear in all dictionaries. For example, a spork is an eating utensil that is a combination of a spoon and a fork, and a skort is an item of clothing that is part skirt, part shorts. On the other hand, turducken, a dish made by inserting a chicken into a duck, and the duck into a turkey, was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2010.

Similarly, the word refudiate was first used by Sarah Palin when she misspoke, conflating the words refute and repudiate. Though initially a gaffe, the word was recognized as the New Oxford American Dictionary's "Word of the Year" in 2010.[17]


The business lexicon is replete with newly coined portmanteau words like "permalance" (permanent freelance), "advertainment" (advertising as entertainment), "advertorial" (a blurred distinction between advertising and editorial), "infotainment" (information about entertainment or itself intended to entertain by virtue of its manner of presentation), and "infomercial" (informational commercial).

Non-standard English


Two proper names can also be used in creating a portmanteau word in reference to the partnership between people, especially in cases where both persons are well-known, or sometimes to produce epithets such as "Billary" (referring to former United States president Bill Clinton and his wife, former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton). In this example of recent American political history, the purpose for blending is not so much to combine the meanings of the source words but "to suggest a resemblance of one named person to the other"; the effect is often derogatory, as linguist Benjamin Zimmer states.[18] By contrast, the public, including the media, use portmanteaux to refer to their favorite pairings as a way to "...giv[e] people an essence of who they are within the same name."[19] This is particularly seen in cases of fictional and real-life "supercouples". An early known example, Bennifer, referred to film stars Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. Other examples include Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) and TomKat (Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes).[19] "Desilu Productions" was a Los Angeles, California-based company jointly owned by couple and actors Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. Miramax is the combination of the first names of the parents of the Weinstein brothers.

Holidays are another example, as in Thanksgivukkah, a portmanteau neologism given to the convergence of the American holiday of Thanksgiving and the first day of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah on Thursday, 28 November 2013.[20][21]

Other languages


In vernacular Arabic, contractions are a pretty common phenomenon, in which mostly prepositions are added to other words to create a word with a new meaning. For example, the Hejazi word for "not yet" is لسع/لسه (lessa/lessaʕ), which is a combination of the words لـ (li, for) and الساعة (assaʕa,the hour). Other examples in Hejazi Arabic include:

A few rare or facetious examples would include:


In the Bulgarian language the most common use of portmanteau is as a part of advertising campaigns. One such example is the word gintuition (джинтуиция pronounced dzhintuitsia), which is made up from the words gin and intuition. This one in particular is used, not surprisingly, as a part of a gin commercial. Another example is the word charomat, which consists of the words чар (the Bulgarian word for charm) and аромат (meaning aroma), made popular by an ad about a coffee brand.


Several Chinese province names are portmanteau words. Anhui is a combination of Anqing and Huizhou, Fujian is a combination of Fuzhou and Jianzhou (ancient name of Jian'ou), Gansu is a combination of Ganzhou and Suzhou, and Jiangsu is a combination of Jiangning (ancient name of Nanjing) and Suzhou.

In 1927, the city of Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province, was created by merging the three cities of Wuchang, Hankou, and Hanyang into one city.


Certain portmanteaus in Filipino have come into use to describe popular combinations of items in a Filipino breakfast. An example of such a combination order is kankamtuy: an order of kanin (rice), kamatis (tomatoes) and tuyo (dried fish). Another is tapsi: an order of tapa and sinangág. Other examples include variations using a silog suffix, usually some kind of meat served with sinangág and itlog (egg). The three most commonly seen silogs are tapsilog (having tapa as the meat portion), tocilog (having tocino as the meat portion), and longsilog (having longganisa as the meat portion). Other silogs include hotsilog (with a hot dog), bangsilog (with bangus (milkfish)), dangsilog (with danggit (rabbitfish)), spamsilog (with spam), adosilog (with adobo), chosilog (with chorizo), chiksilog (with chicken), cornsilog (with corned beef), and litsilog (with lechon/litson). An establishment that specializes in such meals is called a tapsihan or "tapsilugan".

The name of a common Filipino mongrel dogs askal is derived from Tagalog words "asong kalye" or "street dog" because these dogs are commonly seen in streets. Askals are also called "aspins", a combination of "asong Pinoy" or "Philippine Dog".

Another Filipino portmanteau is a popular but slightly dated female name Luzviminda derived from the Philippines' three major island groups Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.


Despite its French etymology (modern spelling: porte-manteau), portmanteau is not used in French in this context. It is indeed a false friend. It refers to a coat stand or coat hook (literally a "coat support"), but in the past it could also refer to a cloth drape knight would use to pack their gear. It was in this context that it first came to its English use, and the metaphorical use for a linguistic phenomenon (putting one word inside another, as into a case) is an English coinage. The French linguistic term mot-valise, literally a "suitcase-word", is a relatively recent back-translation from English, attested only since 1970.

Although French is regulated by the Académie française (which has had a conservative attitude to neologisms) it produced a number of portmanteau words such as franglais (frenglish) or courriel (courrier électronique = email) and has used the technique in literature (Boris Vian) or to create brands: Transilien (Transports franciliens = Île-de-France transportation system).[23]

French has a second regulatory body, named OQLF, an agency of the Government of Quebec, which is completely independent from the Académie. It has a tendency to produce neologisms in order to replace anglicisms. It created the portmanteaus courriel and clavardage (clavier + bavardage), for example. Another example in Quebec (but made outside of OQLF) is Centricois, which means person from the region Centre-du-Québec (winner of a contest organised by the SSJB of Centre-du-Québec in 1999).


Galician has many portmanteaus, some existing also in Portuguese but many others not (or only in the North of Portugal, close to Galicia), which can be explained by its popular origin: carambelo (frozen candy), from caramelo (candy) and carámbano (icicle); martabela (a kind of dead bolt), from martelo (hammer) and tarabela (a kind of drill bit); rabuñar (to scratch with a fingernail, for instance a cat or a person), from rabuxa (a small tail, and also a common ill in tails) and rañar (to scratch); millenta ("many thousands", also common in Portuguese milhenta), from milleiro (one thousand) and cento (one hundred); runxir (to crackle, applied to some things only), from ruxir (to howl) and renxer (to grind the teeth), or vagamundo (tramp), from vagabundo (wanderer) and mundo (world), currently "vagamundo" and "vagabundo" mean the same, and the former is considered a vulgarism.


Kofferwort, a German synonym for portmanteau, is a recent literal translation of French mot-valise, attested since 1983. However, the phenomenon is well known in German poetry. A modern example of German portmanteau is 'Teuro', combining 'teuer' (expensive) and 'Euro'. Other examples are Mainhattan, a Central business district in Frankfurt on the river Main like Manhattan, New York and Kreuzkölln, the Berlin area bordering between Kreuzberg and Neukölln.

Modern Hebrew

Modern Hebrew abounds with European mechanisms such as blending: Along with קומפקט דיסק (kompaktdisk, compact disc), Hebrew has the blend תקליטור (taklitor), which consists of the Jewish-descent תקליט (taklít, record) and אור (or, light). Modern Hebrew is full of portmanteau blends, such as:

Sometimes the root of the second word is truncated, giving rise to a portmanteau that resembles an acrostic:


A portmanteau common in both Hindi and English is Hinglish, which refers to the vernacular of the people in (the Hindi-speaking regions of) India, where they mix Hindi and English in the spoken language. Another modern day example is the BrahMos missile, whose name is a portmanteau of two rivers, Brahmaputra and Moskva.

Compounds displaying Sanskritic sandhi are extremely commonplace in Hindi, but as compounds showing sandhi still consist of multiple morphemes, these are not portmanteaux.


There is a tradition of linguistic purism in Icelandic, and neologisms are frequently created from pre-existing words. Tölva ("computer") is a portmanteau of tala ("digit; number") and völva ("oracle or seeress").[24]


In Indonesian, portmanteaux are often used as both formal and informal acronyms and referrals. Many organizations and government bodies use them for brevity. Journalists often create portmanteaux for particular historical moments. Examples include:

Formal and journalism uses:

Informal uses, for example:


A very common type of portmanteau in Japanese forms one word from the beginnings of two others (that is, from two back-clippings).[26] The portion of each input word retained is usually two morae, which is tantamount to one kanji in most words written in kanji.

The inputs to the process can be native words, Sino-Japanese words, gairaigo (later borrowings), or combinations thereof. A Sino-Japanese example is the name 東大 (Tōdai) for the University of Tokyo, in full (kyō daigaku). With borrowings, typical results are words such as パソコン (pasokon), meaning personal computer (PC), which despite being formed of English elements does not exist in English; it is a uniquely Japanese contraction of the English personal computer (ナル・コンピュータ pāsonaru konpyūta). Another example, Pokémon (ポケモン), is a contracted form of the English words pocket (ポケット poketto) and monsters (モンスター monsutā).[27] A famous example of a blend with mixed sources is karaoke (カラオケ karaoke), blending the Japanese word for empty ( kara) and the English word orchestra (オーケストラ ōkesutora).


A modern example of a Latin portmanteau is lamprophrenia, combining lampron (bright) and phrenia (mind).


Although not very common in Spanish (except for some compulsory contractions such as 'a el'='al'), portmanteaux are finding their way into the language mainly through marketing and media efforts, such as in Mexican Spanish 'cafebrería' from 'cafetería' and 'librería', or Teletón from 'televisión' and 'maratón'. However, it is very frequent in commercial brands of any type (for instance, "chocolleta", from "chocolate" + "galleta", cookie), and above all family owned business (of small size, for instance: Rocar, from "Roberto" + "Carlos", and Mafer, from "Maria" + "Fernanda"). Such usages are obviously prompted by the registering of a distinguishable trademark, but with time is common that a specific trademark became the name of the all similar products, like in Cola Cao, a name which is very common to use to refer any similar product.


Neologisms are also frequently created from pre-existing words in the Tibetan languages. For example, kubkyab (the common word for "chair") combines the words kub ("butt"), kyag ("a stand"), and gyab nye ("cushion," often for the back). Gyabnye is itself a blend of gyabten ("back support") and nyeba, the verb for "lean against, recline, rest on." Thus the word for chair is "a standing support for one's butt and back to rest on." Tibetan also employs portmanteaus frequently in names of important figures and spiritual practices, such as His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, with Penor being pema norbu ("lotus jewel"), and the Buddhist practice of Dzogchen, or dzogpa chenpo, the "Great Perfection." Tibetan is rich with portmanteaus.

Word/morph (linguistics)

In linguistics the term blend is used to refer to general combination of words, and the term portmanteau is reserved for the narrow sense of combining two or more morphemes in one morph. E.g. in the Latin word animalis the ending -is is a portmanteau morph because it is used for two morphemes: the singularity and the genitive case. In English two separate morphs are used (of an animal).

The term may also be extended to include contractions. Examples of such combinations include:

Language Combination Portmanteau
Portuguese de o do
a aquele àquele
de ela dela
em um num
French à le au
à les aux
de le du
de les des
en les ès
German in das ins
in dem im
zu dem zum
zu der zur
Irish de an den
do an don
Spanish a el al
de el del
Italian a il al
a la alla
a lo allo
a l' all'
a i ai
a gli agli
a le alle
di il del
di la della
di lo dello
di l' dell'
di i dei
di gli degli
di le delle
da il dal
da la dalla
da lo dallo
da l' dall'
da i dai
da gli dagli
da le dalle
Cornish a an a'n
Welsh i ein i'n
o ein o'n
West Frisian bist do bisto
yn de yn 'e

This usage has been referred to as "portmanteau morph".[6]

While in Portuguese, French, Spanish and Italian the use of the short forms is obligatory (with the exception of ès in French, which is archaic in most senses), German and Cornish speakers theoretically may freely choose the form they use. In German, portmanteaus clearly dominate in spoken language, whilst in written language both forms are in use.

See also


  1. 1 2 Garner's Modern American Usage, p. 644
  2. 1 2 "Portmanteau". Merriam-Webster Offline Dictionary. Retrieved 21 June 2008.
  3. "Portmanteau word". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000. Retrieved 21 June 2008.
  4. "portmanteau word". Webster's New World College Dictionary. Cleveland: Wiley. 2010. ISBN 0-7645-7125-7.
  5. "Portmanteau word". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  6. 1 2 "What is a portmanteau morph?". LinguaLinks Library. 2003. External link in |work= (help)
  7. Thomas, David (1983). "An invitation to grammar". Summer Institute of Linguistics. Bangkok: Mahidol University: 9.
  8. Crystal, David (1985). "A dictionary of linguistics and phonetics" (2nd ed.). New York: Basil Blackwell: 237.
  9. Hartmann, R.R.K.; Stork, F.C. (1972). "Dictionary of language and linguistics". London: Applied Science: 180.
  10. "portmanteau, n.". Oxford English Dictionary, third edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2010. Retrieved 23 February 2011.
  11. 1 2 3 Fromkin, V., Rodman, R., and Hyams, N. (2007) An Introduction to Language, Eighth Edition. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth. ISBN 1-4130-1773-8.
  12. "Portmanteau." The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.
  13. Petit Robert: portemanteau - "malle penderie" (suitcase in which clothes hang)
  14. "PORTEMANTEAU : Définition de PORTEMANTEAU". cnrtl.fr.
  15. Such a "coat bag" is mentioned in Chapter 12 of Alexander Dumas' ″The Count of Monte Cristo″ The Count of Monte Cristo
  16. Punch, 1 August 1896, 58/2
  17. "NEW OXFORD AMERICAN DICTIONARY'S 2010 WORD OF THE YEAR IS...". Retrieved 30 January 2012.
  18. Zimmer, Benjamin (1 November 2005). "A perilous portmanteau?". Language Log. University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 11 November 2008.
  19. 1 2 Winterman, Denise (3 August 2006). "What a mesh". BBC News Magazine. Retrieved 17 July 2008.
  20. Christine Byrne (2 October 2013). "How To Celebrate Thanksgivukkah, The Best Holiday Of All Time". Buzzfeed. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  21. Stu Bykofsky (22 October 2012). "Thanks for Thanukkah!". Philly.com. Retrieved 11 October 2013.
  22. Wallah (Arabic)
  23. The name also combines the word lien (link)
  24. Kristján Árnason; Sigrún Helgadóttir (1991), "Terminology and Icelandic Language Policy", Behovet och nyttan av terminologiskt arbete på 90-talet, Nordterm 5, Nordterm-symposium, pp. 7–21
  25. "Golput – Schott's Vocab Blog – NYTimes.com". The New York Times. 17 February 2009. Retrieved 19 June 2009.
  26. "What are contracted words like rimokon?". Sljfaq.org. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
  27. Rosen, Eric. "Japanese loanword accentuation: epenthesis and foot form interacting through edge-interior alignment∗" (PDF). University of British Columbia. sfu.ca. Retrieved 25 November 2010.

External links

Look up portmanteau, portmanteau word, or Category:English blends in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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