Admittedly there isn’t much of a journey to along the alphabet from Brangelina to Brexit but these two events, which seem to have defined the summer illustrate just how much we use Portmanteaus from the important things in life to the whimsical.
For those who are not sure what exactly is a Portmanteau, it is when you join together two words and their meanings into a new word with a combined and related but still new meaning.
Portmanteaus can be found in almost every walk of life and are an easy and inventive way to create a relatively new word when existing words no longer quite do the trick or when things have changed and a new event or item or situation is created.
For example, probably the biggest event of the year was the vote for Britain to decide its future status with the European Union which looks like it has resulted in a British Exit or Brexit. Everyone knows what Brexit means from the very first time it has been explained to them.
Brangelina was created from the Hollywood stars Bradd Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Each one previously an icon in their own right and yet once married, they became inseparable and pretty much acted as one person or identity and thus Brangelina was born.
The use of Portmanteaus in English is not a new phenomena. That famous and beautiful area of England known as the Cotswolds is a portmanteau. Wold is one of many localised English words for a valley. Two thousand years ago, the Romans realised how rich and green the grass was here and supplemented the existing sheep with new ones from North Africa which they believed would help produce more wool. Obviously sheep from Egypt or Libya might have issues with the temperature change in the winter and so the Romans built special huts and sheds to house the sheep. These builds were known as Cots. Hence Cotswolds means the valleys of sheep sheds and that description still very much suits the district today.
Portmanteaus have infiltrated every aspect of our lives from Labradoodles which are hybrids of Labrador and Poodle dogs to Digital Monsters or Digimon. Alcopops, Brunch and Cheeseburgers are just some of the most obvious when it comes to food.
Many modern Portmanteaus have been born out of necessity. Before the 20th century, we didn’t really have cars nor hijacking as we know it today but now we can all be scared of Carjacking. I spend much of my life waiting to Chill and Relax, perhaps I could save time and just Chillax.
Britain has countless localised Portmanteaus, obviously the obvious ones like Britpop or what others call our comedy shows, Britcoms which is in turn related to the older Portmanteau of the Sitcom or Situation Comedy. More unusual ones include Mizzle which is a mix of Mist and Drizzle (very fine and light rain) or Chavtastic which rather than being a fantastic Chav means to have many of the worst characteristics of a Chav. Don’t ask what a Chav is. Many people take a ride on the Chunnel or Channel Tunnel.
In fact, many of our most used words are Portmanteaus. Vitamins are Vital Minerals. Mopeds are motorised pedal bicycles, Paratroopers are troopers who us parachutes. If police suspect you of drink-driving they might use a Breath Analyser or Breathalyser. Keeping with science there is Cyborg or Cybernetic Organism and Endorphins or Endogenous and morphine.
Even places can become Portmanteaus. Starting off big with Eurasia or Europe and Asia or the combination of small but similarly characteristic states such as Benelux or Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg or Kentuckiana for the American states of Kentucky and Indiana. Geographic closeness isn’t required to be part of a portmanteau. New York and London can become Nylon. Here the word describes the many similarities in size, culture, lifestyle etc of the two cities. To be truly global we can have Nylonkong which adds Hong Kong to the cosmopolitan mix.
Whilst English and its ability to adapt and change means the language is richer in Portmanteaus than most other languages, it is not in any way an English only way of constructing language. Arabic and Hebrew are two languages that make great use of this technique as does Indonesian for example. Many places in China are actually named by using Portmanteaus. India is another country where the use of Portmanteaus is commonplace both within languages such as Hindi but also mixing local languages with English and resulting in words such as Hinglish and Bollywood. However Spanish is known for not making great use of Portmanteaus.
Interestingly, despite Portmanteau obviously having French origins, in France itself they use the term ‘Mot-Valise’ which can be roughly translated as being a suitcase word and this term is merely a 20th-century translation of an English term.
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