AskDefine | Define portmanteau

Dictionary Definition



1 a new word formed by joining two others and combining their meanings; "`smog' is a blend of `smoke' and `fog'"; "`motel' is a portmanteau word made by combining `motor' and `hotel'"; "`brunch' is a well-known portmanteau" [syn: blend, portmanteau word]
2 a large travelling bag made of stiff leather [syn: Gladstone, Gladstone bag] [also: portmanteaux (pl)]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


From portemanteau, literally porte + manteau


  • a RP /pɔːtˈmæn.təʊ/, /pO:t"m

Extensive Definition

In some linguistics fields, and also to an extent in common usage, a portmanteau word (sometimes just portmanteau) is a term used to describe a word which fuses two or more function words.


"Portmanteau word" is used to describe a linguistic blend, namely "a word formed by blending sounds from two or more distinct words and combining their meanings".
Such a definition of "portmanteau word" overlaps with the grammatical term contraction, and linguists avoid using the former term in such cases. As an example: the words do + not become the contraction don't, a single word which represents the meaning of the combined words.
A humorous synonym for "portmanteau word" is "frankenword", itself a portmanteau word, blending "Frankenstein" and "word".


The usage of the word 'portmanteau' in this sense first appeared in Lewis Carroll's book Through the Looking-Glass (1871), in which Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice the coinage of the unusual words in Jabberwocky:
  • "‘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)".
Carroll uses the word again 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 ... you will say "frumious." In 1964, the newly-independent African republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar chose the portmanteau word Tanzania as its name.
"Wikipedia" is itself an example of a portmanteau word because it combines the word "wiki" and "encyclopedia."
Portmanteau words may be produced by conjoining proper names with common nouns, such as "Gerrymandering" which refers to the scheme of Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry for politically contrived redistricting: the districts created had the semblance of a salamander in outline. Portmanteau words involving proper names are sometimes used to produce epithets such "Billary" (referring to former United States president Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton). Here, 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" and the effect is often derogatory, as linguist Benjamin Zimmer notes.
Subsequent to the Watergate Scandal, it became popular to attach the suffix "-gate" to other words to describe contemporary scandals, e.g. "Filegate" for the White House FBI files controversy.
Portmanteau words can used to describe bilingual speakers who use words from both languages while speaking. For instance a person would be considered speaking "Spanglish" if they are using both Spanish and English words at the same time.
The suffix "-holism" or "-holic", taken from the word "Alcoholism" or "alcoholic", can be added to a noun, creating a word that describes an addiction to that noun. Chocoholic, for example, means a person who is addicted to chocolate.

Use with Supercouples

One of the most prevalent current examples of portmanteau words is in the characterizations of Supercouples. These exist both for real-life couples as well as fictional ones. The portmanteau word "Brangelina" has become highly identified with the real-life partnership of actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Likewise, "TomKat", a homonym for tomcat, is a a portmanteau for the couple Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise.
The use of portmanteau words in the world of Soap Operas can indicate not only the Supercouple, but the speaker's opinion of them. For example, fans unhappy with the General Hospital pairing of character Sonny and Emily coined the portmanteau word "Soily."


portmanteau in Bosnian: Portmanteau
portmanteau in Danish: Portmanteau
portmanteau in German: Kofferwort
portmanteau in Spanish: Portmanteau
portmanteau in Esperanto: Kofrovorto
portmanteau in French: Mot-valise
portmanteau in Indonesian: Portmanteau
portmanteau in Italian: Parola macedonia
portmanteau in Hebrew: הלחם בסיסים
portmanteau in Latin: Portmanteau
portmanteau in Hungarian: Szóösszerántás
portmanteau in Dutch: Portmanteau
portmanteau in Japanese: かばん語
portmanteau in Norwegian: Teleskopord
portmanteau in Polish: Kontaminacja (językoznawstwo)
portmanteau in Portuguese: Palavra-valise
portmanteau in Romanian: Cuvânt telescopat
portmanteau in Swedish: Teleskopord
portmanteau in Chinese: 混成詞
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