25 Favorite Portmanteau Words
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).