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Portmanteau: What Is It?

Updated on April 16, 2009

What is a Portmanteau

In one sense, a portmanteau (pronounced port-man-toh or port-man-too) is a large suitcase which opens into two hinged compartments, but we are concerned with its other definition, a word coined by blending two or more words. The word “portmanteau” is itself a portmanteau, formed by combining the word “porter” (to carry) with the word manteau (coat, mantle). You will be familiar with more modern examples: brunch (breakfast + lunch), smog (smoke + fog), and motel (motor + hotel). But there are many more.

Originally a portmanteau was a court official who was designated to carry the robes of a king in a case with two compartments. Eventually, the case itself, with its two, hinged compartments was called a portmanteau. Today's usage – a word formed from two or more words - comes from Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass. Humpty Dumpty is explaining to Alice the coinage of the strange words in the poem Jabberwocky, considered by many to be the greatest nonsense poem ever written in the English Language:

“ 'Slithy' means 'lithe and slimy'...You see it's like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed into one word,” and later “ ' Mimsy' is 'flimsy and miserable,' there's another portmanteau for you.”

Carroll later explains the word when he says “Humpty Dumpty's theory, of two meanings packed into one word like a portmanteau, seems to me the right explanation for all. For instance, take the two words "fuming" and "furious." Make up your mind that you will say both words ... you will say "fumious."

photo by matthoov / flickr
photo by matthoov / flickr
photo by johnmuk / flickr
photo by johnmuk / flickr
photo Dust Mason / flickr
photo Dust Mason / flickr

Portmanteaus Before and After

There were some examples of such words in use before Carroll coined the term for them. In 1823, the word anecdotage was first recorded, and was a combination of “anecdote” and “dotage”, suggesting a garrulous old age. Squirl, from “squiggle” and “whirl” to describe a handwriting flourish, appeared in 1843. Herman Mehlville used the word snivelization in 1849, from “snivel” and “civilization.”

Portmanteaus Commonly Used

Portmanteaus are so common that often we don't realize when we are using them. Some are obviously a combination of words, some are humorous, and some are highly descriptive.

Some examples are:

Tanzania – Formed when the republics Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged.

Spork – An eating utensil, half spoon, half fork.

Motown - Combination of “motor” and “town.”

Blaxploitation - Combining “black” and “exploitation.”

Beefalo - “Beef” plus “Buffalo.”

Blog – “Web” plus “Log.”

Breathalyser – “Breath” plus “Analyzer,” which unfortunately, many of you are familiar with.

Glitz – “Glamour” plus “Ritz.”

Chortle - “Chuckle” plus “Snort,” another Lewis Carroll creation.

Prissy - “Prim” plus “sissy.”

Sexcapade - “Sex” plus “Escapade,” which some of you have been involved in.

Camcorder - “Camera” plus “Recorder,” what some of you take to your sexcapade.

Infotainment - “Information” plus “Entertainment,” what you create when you use you camcorder at your sexcapade.

Sexpert - “Sex” plus “Expert,” what you become after creating infotainment with your camcorder at a sexcapade.

Humongous - “Huge” plus “Monstrous,” a word heard while creating infotainment with your camcorder at a sexcapade.

Palimony – “Partner” plus “Alimony,” the lawsuit you are slapped with after your significant other views your infotainment created with your camcorder at a sexcapade. It is usually humongous and you are sorry you ever became a sexpert.

And these are just a few. For a much more extensive list of portmanteaus, please go here.


Portmanteaus by Prefix or Suffix

Created by attaching a prefix or suffix from one word onto another, these portmanteaus give the same association to the newly created words. The most common example would be the word “Watergate.” Suddenly every scandal became a gate word. When the news of the Iran-Contra affair broke, it was called contragate. The Clinton's involvement in Whitewater became Whitewatergate. Another example of portmanteau's is by attaching the suffix oholic from alcoholic, which gives us chocoholic, foodoholic, and sexoholic.

Thus, when a certain activity involving a stogie between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky became public, it was called Monicagate and we learned Clinton was a cigaroholic. We also learned that sometimes a cigar is not just a cigar, which was formerly a Freudism and is now a Reillobite (Reilly + soundbite.)

There are many examples of portmanteaus using a common prefix right here on HubPages. Hubtivity (hub + activity) is an example of a hubword. The HubPages staff is credited with coining hublove as part of a promotion in February, 2008. The popular hubword Hubaholic was first set in print by Jimmy the Jock in April, 2007. Hubpressure was coined by RockinJoe in January, 2009. In response to Joe, I coined the term hubberoids, which comes from sitting on your butt too long while hubbing. The word hubalicious has been used on occasion. A hubber gave herself the moniker when she signed up for HubPages in March, 2008. She wrote no hubs however and was never active. Most current usage is documented as coming from one Pam Roberson, a popular hubber who also created the character C.A. Hubberpants.  This portmanteau used in a sentence by Pam first appeared in print in January, 2009.

Hubjacking, both the term and the activity, where a hubgang of hubbers goes onto a hub and takes over the comment section to discuss whatever strikes their fancy, was first created in November, 2008, by gwendymom, spryte, and this writer. It was gwendymom who first coined the portmanteau, whereas the activity just evolved. It should be noted that hubjacking is very good for the hub that is jacked, which raises its hubscore considerably. Additionally, the hub in question should be “lonely,” low-scoring with few comments, and unattended by the author. It's not a hubjacking if the author is in on it. Then it is a hubride (hub + joyride)

There was a forum in which hubbers created many portmanteaus using the prefix hub. I was unable to locate it. Any links to the forum in question, when located and forwarded to me, will be appreciated and posted promptly.

Branjolina is just a portmanteau
Branjolina is just a portmanteau

Portmanteaus with Proper Names

Almost everyone is familiar with these cute couple names. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie became Branjolina. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopes were tagged Benifer. Let us consider some possible future hubber couple portmanteaus. If Misha got together with Indian Hubber Shalini, they would be called Mishalini. If Randy Behavior and BlondePoet hooked up, I don't know what their name would be but I would get my camcorder and create infotainment taping their sexcapade and probably become a sexpert with humongous profits and damn the palimony!

And now you know about the portmanteau. Have a hubappiday! (hub + happy + day)

Photo Credits

Spork1, mathoov, flickr,;

Camcorder, johnmuk, flickr,

Sexpert, Dust Mason, flickr,


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