A Book for Logophiles and Amateur Etymologists: Portmanteau A-Z
Rebecca May, in her introduction to Portmanteau A-Z: An Alphabet of Portmanteau Words, explains to the uninitiated what a portmanteau—or blended—word is: “…a word that fuses the sounds and combines the meanings of two or more other words.” Famed Alice in Wonderland author, Lewis Carroll, coined the term and described the technique for inventing such words, “…take the two words ‘fuming’ and ‘furious.’ Make up your mind that you will say both words, but leave it unsettled which you will say first. Now open your mouth and speak…if you have that rarest of gifts, a perfectly balanced mind, you will say ‘fruminous.’” There is some validity to the argument that Lewis Carroll may not have been the possessor of a perfectly balanced mind, but none can argue that he was not adept at inventing his own word blends, as demonstrated in “Jabberwocky” and other works.
Rebecca May has selected 26 words to illustrate exactly what portmanteau words are, some of which are familiar additions to the English language. For example, “quasar” combines “quasi-stellar” and “star,” “infomercial combines “information” and “commercial,” and “ruckus” combines “ruction” and “rumpus.” The first example is, perhaps, the best of the lot: “anticipointment…the moment when a prolonged period of suspense concludes with unfortunate results,” it is the combination of “anticipation” and “disappointment” and is one of those words that may be new but are so apt they are immediately understood. Another satisfying sample is “digerati,” the combination of “digital” and “literati.”
Portmanteau A-Z is not a serious reference work; it is a lighthearted exploration of some of the tricks and turns language takes when put in the mouth of humans. Drawings that accompany each word amplify the definitions. Readers who are interested in more complete lists of portmanteau words need only Google “portmanteau words” to find sites that list and define them. There you will find such relatively new terms as “spork,” “blog,” “Brangelina,” and “chillaxing, “along with old standards like “chortle,” “breathalyzer,” “brunch,” and “outpatient.” Wikipedia (a portmanteau word itself) offers a full explanation of the history and use of these linguistic blends.
Best described as “gift-sized” (gized?), Portmanteau A-Z is nice, little gift for wordaholics (a portmanteau combining “word” and “alcoholic,” meaning logophile), language lovers, and trivia buffs. It is particularly appropriate for the people you know who have a tendency to invent their own blended words or overuse the term “ginormous” (by the way, is that bigger than “humongous”?). Speaking of “humongous,” perhaps May’s next book will be on autologues—words that describe themselves. One can only hope.