Sunday, 15 January 2012

FrankenWords: The Uses and Abuses of Portmanteaus

darth-vader.jpg
Darth = Dark + Death (?)
There’s something about portmanteaus – fabricated ‘frankenwords’ (and yes, ‘frankenword’ is one) consisting of two words put together – that both charm and repulse. Portmanteaus are to wordcraft what the atom is to science, either a force of great good or a force of great evil, depending on who’s at the controls.

The advent of social media has added a plethora of new words and phrases to the English languages (and to all other languages I know of), many of which are portmanteaus of one sort or another. Many of them are absolutely hideous. The food blogosphere has led to such linguistic eyesores as ‘foodtopia’, ‘foodgasm’ and ‘fooderati’. (In my opinion, there should be a moratorium on new words created with the suffixes –topia, -gasm and –erati.)

Vook is a horrible hybrid of the words ‘video’ and ‘book’ that I’ve seen in cyberspace. (You'd think a bunch of word geeks could do better than that!) And the business world is even worse. The word ‘manufactroversy’ makes my brain hurt. ‘Ideation’ makes me cringe. And ‘in-sourcing’ and ‘agreeance’ should be taken out and shot. And don't even get me started on 'Brangelina', 'Bennifer', 'Tomkat', 'Fisherwood' and other such celeb-manteaus.

But not all new-fangled word hybrids are annoying. Some are a joy. Words like ‘psychobabble’, ‘bromance’ and ‘stagflation’ have been around for a while now and have yet to grow tiresome. The word ‘podcast’ works nicely because it both perfectly characterizes what it is and it’s a perfect rhyme with ‘broadcast’ (as opposed to ‘webinar’, which I’ve never liked).

English, is should be known, has no monopoly in the portmanteau domain. The French language not only gave us the word portmanteau itself (from ‘porte-manteau’, a bag for carrying a coat) but also coined words like courriel, a shorthand for courrier électronique (for e-mail) and pourriel (spam), which is a double-portmanteau of the word courriel and poubelle (garbage).

And then there’s the Japanese language, which is a treasure trove of great portmanteaus. The standard Japanese word for PC is pāsokon (パーソコン), which is an amalgam of pāsonaru konpyūtā (personal computer). Pokémon is of course a hybrid of poketto monsutā (pocket monster). And my all-time favourite portmanteau in any language is narikon (なりこん), a now-popular term for leaving your spouse by fleeing the country, a hybrid of the words rikon (離婚, divorce) and Narita (成田), as in Tokyo’s international airport.

Leaving other languages aside for a moment, however, here are my ten favourite portmanteaus in the English language:

1)      Floordrobe – something we’ve all had one at one point or another

2)      Lupper – like brunch except for people too hung-over to make it out of the house before 3:00 pm

3)      Bromance – setting a new standard for male friendships

4)      Momniscience – because mother really does always know

5)      Botax – because staying youthful looking really does cost a lot of money

6)      Backronym – because there’s always a better meaning for our existing acronyms (etc. SUV – silly urban vanity; CIA – conspirators, instigators and assassins; NDP – not destined for power etc.)

7)      Guesstimate – a bit redundant perhaps, but it slips off the tongue nicely

8)      Pornado – Only just discovered this one; the cyclone of desperate, frenzied activity of a person who’s about to be walked in on while watching Internet porn

9)      Twuck-up – A Tweet gone egregiously wrong

10)   Manscaping – Because pretty much any portmanteau with the prefix ‘man’ (i.e. mansiere, manties etc.) is funny, and this one is the best of the lot

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