Portmanteau Words

The blending of two words hardly began with brunch (breakfast + lunch), smog (smoke + fog), and workaholic (work + alcoholic). Many Wordies think such fusings were invented by Lewis Carroll in Jabberwocky, published the same year as his sequel to The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland (1865)*but they predate Carroll, who died in 1898. Yet the poet and author definitely enlarged the inventory: His coinages from Jabberwocky include chortle (chuckle + snort) and galumph (gallop + triumph), and with the publication of The Hunting of the Snark (1876), Carroll introduced snark (snake + shark). He also took it upon himself to name the blends portmanteau words, after the “two-in-one” suitcases that folded in half.

Word blends bring a new level of interest to language and reach back to Early Modern English at the very least. (For context, Shakespeare spoke and wrote in Late Modern English.) Below are four examples, all with the earliest recorded use specified by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and starting with the most “recent”:

  • twiddle  twirl + fiddle (1774)
  • flurry  flutter + hurry (1698)
  • twirl  twist + whirl (1598)
  • flush  flash + gush (1548)

How many of us realized the words in this list are blends? Not I, until I recently dipped into one of my old college textbooks: The Origins and Development of the English Language (1964) by Thomas Pyles.

* The name of the sequel? Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871).

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