What Is a Portmanteau? | Definition & Examples

A portmanteau is a word created by blending sounds and meanings from multiple other words (e.g., friend + enemy = frenemy). Portmanteaus describe concepts or phenomena in a concise, easily understood, and sometimes amusing way.

Portmanteau examples
Our athleisure line combines the comfort of athletic wear with the style of streetwear. (athletic + leisure)

I recorded a vlog documenting my search for the perfect Christmas tree. (video + log)

Fans cosplay as their favorite characters at the convention. (costume + play)

We watched a sci-fi movie about a cyborg that has human emotions combined with the strength of a robot. (cybernetic + organism)

Portmanteaus are a common part of everyday language, with many originating in domains like marketing, social media, technology, entertainment, or literature.

What is a portmanteau?

A portmanteau (or blend word) is a word formed by combining the sounds and meanings of other words (e.g., gigantic + enormous = ginormous). Most portmanteaus combine two words, but rare exceptions like “turducken” (turkey + duck + chicken) combine more than two.

Portmanteaus are a type of neologism (Latin for “new word”). Neologisms, which include other linguistic phenomena such as acronyms, initialisms, coinages, and loan words, are an essential part of the evolution of language. These new words often reflect changes in society, technology, or culture.

New portmanteaus often originate in specific niches, such as marketing, technology, news media, or social media, where there’s a need for a succinct and catchy term to describe a new concept or product (e.g., “podcast” was coined to describe an “iPod broadcast”).

Over time, portmanteaus often become part of everyday language as they gain widespread usage and recognition. Some remain informal despite becoming popular (e.g., “staycation,” combining “stay” and “vacation”), while others become standard and lose their sense of novelty (e.g., “email,” meaning “electronic mail”).

Note
The plural noun form of “portmanteau” is most often spelled “portmanteaus” in modern US English. However, “portmanteaux” is also an accepted spelling, reflecting the word’s French origins.

Portmanteau meaning

The term “portmanteau” blends the French words “porter” (to carry) and “manteau” (coat). It was originally the name of a suitcase with two distinct compartments used for carrying coats and other clothing.

Novelist Lewis Carroll is credited with first comparing the portmanteau suitcase to the phenomenon of blended words. In Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, the character Humpty Dumpty coins the term “slithy” (lithe + slimy) and explains that his newly formed word is “like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.”

Portmanteau examples

Examples of portmanteaus are common in everyday conversations, as well as many professional domains such as media and marketing. Some portmanteaus are so familiar and widely accepted that you might not have realized they are portmanteaus (e.g., “electrocute”), while others are newer and less widely used (e.g., “glamping”).

Portmanteau examples
advertorial (advertisement + editorial)

affluenza (affluence + influenza)

Bennifer (Ben Affleck + Jennifer Lopez)

bit (binary + digit)

chortle (chuckle + snort)

docudrama (documentary + drama)

digerati (digital + literati)

edutainment (education + entertainment)

electrocute (electricity + execute)

emoticon (emotion + icon)

fashionista (fashion + -ista)

frappuccino (frappe + cappuccino)

glamping (glamorous + camping)

greenwash (green + whitewash)

guesstimate (guess + estimate)

infomercial (information + commercial)

internet (international + network)

liger (lion + tiger)

listicle (list + article)

moped (motor + pedal)

motel (motor + hotel)

netiquette (internet + etiquette)

netizen (internet + citizen)

pixel (picture + element)

popsicle (pop/lollipop + icicle)

simulcast (simultaneous + broadcast)

sitcom (situational + comedy)

spork (spoon + fork)

televangelist (television + evangelist)

turducken (turkey + duck + chicken)

webinar (web + seminar)

workaholic (work + alcoholic)

Frequently asked questions about portmanteaus

What is a portmanteau for air pollution?

“Smog” is a portmanteau of “smoke” and “fog” used to describe the visible air pollution often found in urban areas. The term “smog” was coined by a London resident in 1905 and gained prominence during the Industrial Revolution as cities experienced increased emissions from factories and vehicles. This illustrates the role of neologisms such as portmanteaus in marking societal changes.

What is the difference between a compound word and a portmanteau?

Compound words and portmanteaus are both formed by joining multiple words, but there are a few differences between the two:

  • Compound words retain all the letters from both original words and don’t always express meanings from both words (e.g., butter + fly = butterfly). A compound word is treated as a distinct word with its own dictionary entry.
  • Portmanteaus omit letters from the original words (e.g., Spanish + English = Spanglish) to combine the original words’ sounds and meanings. Portmanteaus are often treated as casual or informal, though some become widely accepted and have their own dictionary entries.
What is the difference between a contraction and a portmanteau?

Contractions and portmanteaus are similar in that they are both formed by combining two words and omitting some letters. However, there is a difference between them:

  • Contractions usually combine two words that are often used together (e.g., “do not” becomes “don’t”). A contraction has the same meaning as its uncontracted form.
  • A portmanteau is formed by blending two words together to create a new word with a different meaning. For example, “brunch” is a combination of “breakfast” and “lunch.” This is also called a neologism.

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Shabo, M. (2024, May 15). What Is a Portmanteau? | Definition & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved June 18, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/rhetoric/portmanteau/

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Magedah Shabo

Magedah is an author, editor, and educator who has empowered thousands of students to become better writers.