Our Favorite Portmanteaus


Spork is a hybrid word for a hybrid utensil with the round bowl of a "spoon" and the pointy tines of a "fork." The first American spork was patented by Samuel W. Francis in 1874. His original design also included a knife edge. (What would that word have been? Kniforkon?) "Spork" itself didn't appear in a dictionary until 1909. If you feel like mixing up your diction, "foon" is also an accepted name for this portman-tensil.


Though Velcro might not feel like a piece of "velvet," the name of this rough and sticky material is combination of "velvet" and the weaving method "crochet." Velcro is a brand of fastening tape that consists of two opposing pieces of fabric: one has a dense arrangement of tiny nylon loops and the other is a field of nylon hooks that catch the loops when the two sides meet. This handy stand-in for the shoe lace was invented by the Swiss engineer George de Mestral in 1948, and later given the name from the French vel(ours) cro(che), meaning "hooked velvet."


This unfortunate mixture of "smoke" and "fog" is the bane of cities all over the world. In 1905, the word smog was coined by Dr. Henry Des Voeux in a paper he presented to the English Public Health Congress. Des Voeux recognized the need for a distinction between natural fog and the coal-smoke-infused fog that plagued London in the Industrial Revolution. Modern smog (i.e. the photochemical smog that hangs over most major cities) forms when the emissions from cars and industrial fumes react to sunlight. The next portmanteau is more appetizing...


This delicious combination of "breakfast" and "lunch" is a meal most often eaten around 11:00am. Brunch first appeared in the English publication Hunter's Weekly in an 1895 article by Guy Beringer entitled "Brunch: A Plea." Beringer calls for a mid-day meal on Sunday that would be kinder to "Saturday-night carousers," a meal that would be "cheerful, sociable and inciting," not punishing for those who hadn't had much sleep the night before. English speakers must've been hungry because brunch was adopted into the dictionary the very next year.


"That madcap scheme might be crazy enough to work!" This "impulsive, reckless, and lively" portmanteau weaseled its way into the lexicon in the 1580s. Madcap combines "mad" from the Old English gemaedde (for "out of one's mind,") and "cap" from the Latin caput meaning "head" and in Low Latin cappa meaning a "hood" or "head covering." We wear many hats as English speakers, but when it comes to portmanteaus, it helps to exchange your "thinking cap" for your "madcap."


This portmanteau abbreviation of "web log"--(we)blog--is simultaneously a verb, a noun, and a sphere: one "blogs" when writing their "blog" which is displayed in the "blogosphere." The noun form of blog is a website that functions as an online journal in which an author can display their personal opinions, experiences and insights. One "blogs" in the verb form when they add to this journal using online posts. (For a fantastic example of a blog check out Dictionary.com's Hot Word.)


When one bird simply won't suffice, it's time to turn to the turducken. This poultry explosion in the only portmanteau on our list that is completely mimetic, meaning that all three combined words are represented in the definition. A turducken is a deboned turkey that is stuffed with a deboned duck that is stuffed with a deboned chicken: tur(key) + duck + (chick)en or (h)en. Three birds, one portmanteau. But where does the word portmanteau come from? Is it also a portmanteau? Find out on the next slide.


It would be a terrible shame if portmanteau were not itself a portmanteau. The word originally referred to a large traveling case made of stiff leather, derived from a combination of the French porter, meaning "to carry," and manteau, meaning "mantle" or "cloak." The word's literary significance is the work of the great neologist himself, Lewis Carroll. In Through the Looking-Glass, Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice that the strange compound words she hears in Wonderland are "like a portmanteau--there are two meanings packed up into one word."

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