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The Australian National University

Blends

In Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass Humpty Dumpty explains what the word slithy means: "Well, 'slithy' means 'lithe and slimy'. 'Lithe' is the same word as 'active'. You see, it's like a portmanteau - there are two meanings packed into one word".

The word 'portmanteau' ('a case or bag for carrying clothing etc., especially when travelling, especially one made of stiff leather and hinged at the back so as to open into two equal parts') is now a bit old-fashioned, but it is more colourful than the standard term blend which is used by linguists to describe this kind of word.

Lewis Carroll created chortle (a combination of 'chuckle' and 'snort') and galumph (a combination of 'gallop' and 'triumph').

Until the end of the nineteenth century this was not a very common way of forming new words. The English poet Edmund Spenser used wrizzled (a combination of `wrinkled' and `frizzled'), and Shakespeare used glaze (a combination of `glare' and `gaze'), but it is difficult to find many early examples. Even in the first half of this century 'blends' or 'portmanteau' words were not common. We can think of the obvious ones:

    smog smoke + fog. This first appears in 1905, and it is used to describe the fog of London.

    motel motor + hotel. This first appears in 1925 in the United States.

    brunch breakfast + lunch. This first appears 1896.

    breathalyser breath + analyser. First recorded in 1960 in the United States.

Australia has one very early example:

    squattocracy squatter + aristocracy. This appears in the 1840s, and is a sarcastic term referring to the squatters as a kind of colonial aristocracy.

In recent years, however, blends have been increasing rapidly.

What do the following words mean? What are the two words which produced these blends or portmanteau words?

    advertorial
    econocrat
    fanzine
    kidult
    medifraud
    palimony
    telegenic
    televangelist

Are blends of this kind common in schoolyard slang? Can you provide some examples? Can you think of any other blends which are currently used in Australian English?

Updated: 19 October 2010/ Responsible Officer:  Centre Director / Page Contact:  Web Publisher