Hybrid words: The Correct Term Is Portmanteau
Normally when you get a red line under a word your typing on your computer or phone you think, oh no spelling mistake, I need to correct that. But sometimes (very rarely!) you get to smile and say no silly computer I am right you are wrong! Today we discuss portmanteau and have some fun with made up English words.
I’d say about 95% of you will say what is “portmanteau”, I’ve never heard of it. It’s not a commonly used English word, but it explains a very common thing we do in English where we mix words together to create a new one. The word portmanteau originates from French and is a French portmanteau of the words porter (to carry) and manteau (coat).
So you might have heard of a “Spork” (or lots of other examples; velcro, brunch and even company names like Amtrak) but today you learn that these hybrid English words are two words joined and portmanteau properly describes them.
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Audio Transcript: Hybrid words: The Correct Term Is Portmanteau
Hi and welcome to this latest podcast from Adept English. I hope you’re having a lovely summer and that you’re perhaps going on holiday, having a nice rest maybe. Don’t forget to take your Adept English with you if you’re travelling and then you can make really good use of that spare time, when you’re in the airport, when you’re on the train, when you’re in the car.
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Hybrid words? Correct term is ‘portmanteau’
Today I was going to talk about words in English which are hybrids. ‘Hybrid’ is spelt H-Y-B-R-I-D and a hybrid is where a plant or an animal is the result of two species, two types, two different kinds of animal or plant crossing together. So you can cross a horse and a donkey to make a mule, M-U-L-E. But when it comes to words that are hybrids – so words that are made up of two separate words, or parts of two separate words, I did my online research for this podcast today and found that the correct term is ‘portmanteau words’. That’s what I want to describe to you. I didn’t know they were called this!
So ‘portmanteau’ is a word from the French – and it means a kind of suitcase. Why these mixed words are called portmanteau is not clear, except that the kind of suitcase opens into two halves, so maybe that’s it. These portmanteau words are made up of half of one word and half of another word. Let me give you some examples – I think that you’ll recognise some of these portmanteau words. There’ll be something you know, once I give you some examples. And maybe you have these in your language?
Smog is a portmanteau
So what about the word ‘smog’, S-M-O-G? That’s a portmanteau word, because it’s made up of the word smoke, S-M-O-K-E and the word fog, F-O-G. So smoke is what rises up into the air, when you have a fire, or what comes out of the end of your cigarette if you smoke, (so notice ‘to smoke’ is also a verb). And fog is what you have on a damp, cold day or night, when you can’t see very far. If you have fog on the motorway in the winter, it can be very dangerous and cause accidents. So smoke and fog combine together to make the portmanteau word ‘smog’.
Motel is a portmanteau
Another example. If you mix hotel, H-O-T-E-L, that’s a word everyone knows and motor, M-O-T-O-R, meaning a car or a truck that you drive, then you get motel, M-O-T-E-L. This is more of an American word – but you’ll perhaps be familiar with what motel means. It’s basically a hotel where the rooms are all on the ground floor, and there’s a carpark outside. It’s not glamorous, it’s functional, but you’re sure that you’ll have a parking space, if you stay in a motel.
So ‘motel’ from motor and hotel, ‘smog’ from smoke and fog – portmanteau words. And these are different from when you just stick two words together like carpark, houseplant, bathroom. These are called compound words – they don’t lose any of the letters, so they just stick together.
Brexit is a portmanteau – and Grexit
Another portmanteau word which is very much in the news in the UK at the moment – what about Brexit? Well, this word is made up of British and exit, E-X-I-T. An exit is where you go out of a building and to make an exit means simply ‘to go out’. So it’s also a verb, ‘to exit’. And of course ‘British’ and ‘exit’ combine to make Brexit – which is the whole phenomenon of Britain leaving the European Union. It’s still not clear what’s happening with that yet – but maybe it’ll be clearer soon. Anyway, Brexit wasn’t the original term – the original term was Grexit – when it looked as though Greece was going to be exiting the EU, we talked about Grexit, G-R-E-X-I-T. Or Greek exit.
Anyone for brunch?
What about the word ‘brunch’ in English? That’s B-R-U-N-C-H. That is a meal or a snack that you might have in the late morning. And brunch is another portmanteau word, made up of breakfast, that you eat first thing in the morning and lunch, L-U-N-C-H, which you eat in the middle of the day. So there you are, if someone invites you out to ‘brunch’, then you’ll know what they mean!
Just a word about our courses – they’re selling really well at the moment – and lots of people are taking advantage of the offer if you buy both of our courses together, it costs you less. If you have some spare time over the summer, it may be worth making the investment and buying the courses when you’ve got time to listen to them. There’s our Most Common Five Hundred Words Course, which really helps you ensure that you know all the common words in English, and then Course One: Activate Your Listening starts you off on English conversation. We’re planning more courses – but it would be really good to have some feedback on the courses we have out there already. What do you find useful? What would you like next? Let us know on Facebook or you can email me at hilary (@) adeptenglish.com.
A portmanteau for university entrance
Anyway, back to portmanteau words. What about when someone applies to both Oxford and Cambridge university? Then we say that they’re ‘doing Oxbridge’ or refer to them as ‘Oxbridge students’. So there is no such place as Oxbridge (or not one that has a university, anyway) and Oxford and Cambridge are nowhere near each other. So ‘Oxbridge’ is just a short way of saying ‘Oxford and Cambridge’.
Emoticon is a portmanteau
Another portmanteau. You know all of those little pictures, smiley faces etc. that you might include in your messages, when you’re on Whatsapp or wherever you message your friends? Well, they’re called ‘emoticons’. So the word emoticon, E-M-O-T-I-C-O-N is a portmanteau of emotion, which means a feeling, like happiness or sadness and icon, I-C-O-N. So icons are the little pictures on the desktop of your phone or your tablet or your laptop, which you recognise and you click on. So emoticons are those little faces or those little pictures with all their expressions, that you might use in your messaging.
There are lots more portmanteau words in English – some of them are quite slang and funny, so maybe I’ll do another podcast on portmanteau words at some point. But the two that I was thinking of, when I decided to do this as a podcast topic were the following ones. If you watched the tennis at Wimbledon recently, then you’ll have seen a few of these around, worn by women tennis players. And the word here is a ‘skort’, S-K-O-R-T. So what is a ‘skort’? Well, if you combine the word skirt, S-K-I-R-T, which is what women wear with the word shorts, S-H-O-R-T-S, which are short trousers, trousers which only cover part of your leg. Then in combination, that is a skort. So it’s a skirt on the top, with shorts.
And the other word, which sounds a bit similar, but which has a completely different context and meaning. What about a ‘spork’, S-P-O-R-K? Do you know what a ‘spork’ is? Well, if you take your lunch – or your brunch perhaps - either to work or to school, or if you go on a bike ride and have a picnic perhaps, well, then a spork can be really useful. It’s made up of the word fork, F-O-R-K which you use to stab your food with and put it into your mouth and the word spoon, S-P-O-O-N, which you use to scoop up your food. If you’re eating soup, you’re probably going to be eating it with a spoon. So a spork is a portmanteau of the two and you can buy these for your lunchbox – very convenient!
So those are just a few samples of portmanteau words, to give you an idea. There are lots more. If you go to the transcript of this podcast at adeptenglish.com, then there’s a link to a website with a whole load more of them. Some of them are quite funny. And I will cover some of the funny ones in a future podcast!
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.
PS: Oh no Harry Potter
I might be wrong about the number of people who know about the word “portmanteau”. Most English-speaking adults and new English language learners will probably not know about “portmanteau” but there is a mobile game “Harry Potter Wizards Unite“ https://www.harrypotterwizardsunite.com/ for the VERY popular Harry Potter series of books/films that uses a “portmanteau” in the game.
The meaning of “portmanteau” can also be the French for a large suitcase or travelling chest, and it’s this use of the word the Harry Potter game uses. So we will probably have a whole generation of children who play the game and know the word, but not in the sense that it’s used today in our podcast. Hey you can’t win them all, and as usual confusion in English is commonplace. English words often have multiple meanings and come from many languages you will undoubtedly end up with conflict in meanings.
So when I said about 95% of you will say what is “portmanteau”, I’ve never heard of it. If might well be that the younger more video game savvy, Harry Potter lovers will say, "we know what it is!" So I’ll adjust the numbers to make my children happy, I’d say 94% of you will say “I’ve never heard of it” 🙂
Have fun with it, it’s too hot here in the UK to worry about all the details, time to get an ice cream and sit in the garden!