25 Favorite Portmanteau Words

By Mark Nichol

One of the many compensating charms of the often infuriating English language is the ease with which speakers and writers may exercise creativity and inventiveness. One of its most inventive components is the portmanteau word — one formed by combining two words into a single (and often deprecating and/or ironically humorous) term that denotes a new concept, or one for which a satisfactory term was heretofore unavailable. Here are twenty-five such terms, their parent words, and their meanings.

1. Affluenza (affluence/influenza): anxiety or dissatisfaction caused by submission to consumerism

2. Anacronym (anachronism/acronym): an acronym derived from a phrase no longer widely known (for example, radar)

3. Anticipointment (anticipation/disappointment): the letdown after hype gives way to reality

4. Backronym (back/acronym): a word presented as an acronym after the fact (for example, the name of the car brand Ford was derisively backronymed to stand for “Fix Or Repair Daily”) or mistakenly believed to be an acronym (the Morse code distress signal is erroneously said to stand for “Save Our Souls”)

5. Blaxploitation (black/exploitation): a genre of pulp entertainment — most prevalent during the 1970s, when African American culture began to permeate US society — that exploits clichés about black people

6. Bodacious (bold/audacious): insolent or unrestrained, extraordinary or impressively large,
or extremely attractive

7. Celebutant(e) (celebrity/debutant(e)): someone famous for being famous, with no apparent talent except self-promotion

8. Chillax (chill/relax): behave, calm down, or relax

9. Cocacolonization (Coca-Cola/colonization): the aggressive introduction or pervasive influence of American consumerism on other cultures

10. Cosplay (costume/play): wearing costumes and accessories that resemble those of characters from various forms of popular culture, or the subculture that engages in cosplay

11. Craptacular (crap/spectacular): entertainment so poor in quality as to be ironically captivating, or hyped but ultimately disappointing

12. Edutainment (education/entertainment): educational material presented in a format intended to attract with its entertainment value)

13. Frankenfood (Frankenstein/food): genetically modified food

14. Frenemy (friend/enemy): a supposed friend whose actions and/or behavior are characteristic of a foe

15. Gaydar (gay/radar): the ability to identify a person as a homosexual based on observation of the person’s appearance and/or behavior

16. Ginormous (gigantic/enormous): huge

17. Infotainment (information/entertainment): information presented in a format intended to attract with its entertainment value

18. Interrobang (interrogative/bang): a combination question mark and exclamation point

19. McMansion (McDonalds/mansion): a blandly generic large house

20. Metrosexual (metropolitan/heterosexual): a man who appears to be inordinately concerned about personal aesthetics and/or is perceived for this quality as being homosexual

21. Mockumentary (mock/documentary): a feature film that spoofs the documentary form

22. Netocracy (Internet/aristocracy): an elite demographic distinguished by facility with technology and online networking

23. Screenager (screen/teenager): the typical adolescent who indulges excessively in screen entertainment

24. Sexploitation (sex/exploitation): pulp entertainment intended primarily to titillate

25. Shopaholic (shop/alcoholic): someone addicted to shopping

A portmanteau word, as described by Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, is (inspired by the word for a suitcase with two opposite compartments) a case of “two meanings packed up into one word.” Many such terms, most of which are in the mainstream vocabulary — and some of which are not widely recognized as invented terms — already exist.

More mundane portmanteau words represent dual ideas in many contexts, including entertainment (cineplex, docudrama, infomercial), sports (heliskiing, parasailing, slurve), and technology (avionics, camcorder, pixel), as well as hybridization of breeds or species (cockapoo, jackalope, liger).

Some older examples include electrocution (electricity/execution), motel (motor/hotel), motorcade (motor/cavalcade), prissy (prim/sissy, though it may be simply a variation of precise), rollicking (rolling/frolicking), and ruckus (ruction, rumpus).

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11 Responses to “25 Favorite Portmanteau Words”

  • Vanessa Vaile

    So you never heard of Boudicca, queen of the British Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the forces of the Roman Empire… and bodacious Celtic redhead? Definitely not a portmanteau word

  • thebluebird11

    Fantabulous! Absatively posolutely superrific! 🙂 I mean, great list.
    I know most of those words but am too…how should I put it…”snooty” to use them just because they’re in vogue, or expressing vogue-ish concepts. Metrosexual…eww.
    I have sort of assimilated “chillax,” only from hearing it over and over (and over) from my, uhhh…well, she was a screenager until July…now she’s a “twenty-screenthing.” Or maybe a “screeny-something.” Or a “techie-something.” I don’t know…someone will come up with a name for her.

  • Stephen Thorn

    @thebluebird11: if you don’t write light comedy you should try it — your post had me literally laughing aloud.

    An illuminating post, Mark. (I’d add Japanimation and gihugic [gigantic or giant/huge] although that one may be a bit more regional than some) and I’m certain there are others sprouting up on an almost-daily basis. I particularly liked the older, accepted portmanteau words (ex. electrocution and motorcade) because I had no idea they were portmanteau words at all — a bit of history that makes me wonder how many of the modern ones you listed will still be in use in a decade or so.

  • Jevon

    If a friend had used the word Chillax while we were talking over some drinks in a bar, I would dismiss her as just trying to be funny. I would never think that words like Cocacolonization, Gaydar, and Craptacular would be in a dictionary. I need to write an article about this sometime in the future with reference to this link. Weird but interesting stuff Mark, thanks.

  • Clint

    How about Twittersphere (Twitter/atmosphere)? Great list, though.

  • Sally

    @thebluebird11 – I agree with Mr Thorn. You write with a zesty wit that deserves a wider audience.

    Cocacolonization is known in serious circles as ‘cultural imperialism.’ Under whatever name, it’s vile.

  • Jade

    One I would have loved to see up there is, ‘Confuzzled.’ Confused/Puzzled. When something is so utterly out of sorts that not only are you confused entirely, but are trying to puzzle your way through it as well.

  • venqax

    Sally: As someone who spends too much time in those “serious” circles, I’d say there is a difference. Cocacolonization speficically refers to “pop” or consumer culture, whereas cultural imperialism is a broader and, IMO, MORE value-loaded term. The latter implies that all influences exercised by a dominant culture over another one are negative. Not necessarily so when it comes to impositions like democracy, science, literacy, rule of law, etc. It is far from vile to think that it is possible to actually uplift and enlighten less progressed parts of the world. It’s just currently unpopular among the self-deprecating set of anti-Western westerners who fancy that they know what’s best for the 3rd World, but the “missionairies” didn’t. They fancy themselves serious but my actually be the “selirious”– those delusionals who take their ideas seriously.

  • thebluebird11

    (if a bluebird blushes, is it a redbird?)
    Thank you Stephen and Sally, you’re so sweet to enjoy my humor!
    @Jade: Confuzzled is a great word. I’ll have to remember to use it, as I’m sure the occasion will arise in no time.
    @Stephen: I agree with you; we take words for granted without delving into their origins, and 100 years or a couple of generations later, what was slang then is commonplace now. Let us see where chillax and metrosexual are in 50 years; I know I won’t be around to find out, but perhaps by then WiFi will extend to the Great Beyond. Of course, the reception might not be that great….if I’m in Cell Hell… 😉

  • Paul Cohen-Tannugi Yoshihara

    Japanese has a LOT of these now that you remind me of them !
    Kentaco Hut is one that comes to me, although its a name.

  • Robin

    Love those words, Mark! And thanks for directing me to this site. I’d like to add one I heard that really got me laughing the other day.

    Voluntold (volunteer/told): when somebody (like your boss) volunteers you.

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