Sunday, 1 March 2009

Portmanteaux

As I toyed with whether to write about blogs, podcasts or netiquette this month I noted that each subject is a portmanteau: a compound word combining two or more words and their meanings. “Blog” is a portmanteau of “web” and “log”, “podcast” is a portmanteau of “iPod” and “broadcast” and “netiquette” is a portmanteau of “network” (or “internet”) and “etiquette”. Even Shetlink is a portmanteau of “Shetland” and “hyperlink”.

The word portmanteau, originally meaning a travel bag that opens into two hinged compartments, popular in 19th century Europe, is itself a portmanteau of “porter” (to carry, of Latin origin) and “manteau” (a cover or coat, of Middle French). Portmanteau’s use as designation of a metaphorical linguistic instrument is generally attributed to Lewis Carroll in 1871’s Through the Looking-Glass. Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice the derivation of the odd words in Jabberwocky: “‘Slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy’ . . . You see it’s like a portmanteau – there are two meanings packed up into one word”