As society evolves, language tends to evolve along with it. As new things are invented, new names have to be found for them. These new names are most often versions of old names, sometimes more than one of the old names being merged into a new name. By now, your eyes have probably started wandering the abyss behind the screen, focusing on anything but the aforementioned complicated statement. Fortunately, there is a technical term for this phenomenon: the new terms born from the merger of two or more old terms are called « portmanteaus ». Portmanteaus have become so common these days that both Wikipedia and the Urban Dictionary are overcrowded with them. As the phenomenon cannot be fought, Oxford Dictionaries has decided to take matters into their own hands and publish a dictionary just for them.
What is a « portmanteau » anyway?
“Portmanteau” is a French term that originally referred to a rigid leather travel bag that opens into two equal parts (port means “to carry” and manteau means “coat”). It is also used in relation to terms born from the merger of two words, a bit like two kids wearing a « manteau » (a trench coat in our case) to sneak into the cinema to see a film that is not demographic for them.
Portmanteaus have been around for some time now – they were used by author Lewis Carroll in his book “Through the Looking Glass” – and the term itself was invented by him in relation to some words he invented. Well, actually, he blamed Humpty Dumpty for inventing these terms. Nowadays, however, marketers can no longer blame this imaginary egg for coining some of the ugliest terms in existence, so they have to take the blame for words like daycationbabymoon and televangelist (the word, not the phenomenon, of course).
The Portmanteaux Oxford Dictionary
While coining portmanteaus is the laziest possible way to produce neologisms—new words and phrases that update spoken language in tune with the needs of the universe—the phenomenon is very real and here to stay. This is why Oxford University Press has decided to tackle the growing wave of bad English terms and collect them in a more organized and standardized format. Their job is quite difficult, however, as today’s hyperactive marketing community keeps coming up with new terms that they keep pushing relentlessly on unsuspecting English speakers.
Their job is made all the more difficult by the fact that some portmanteaus disappear almost as quickly as printing invents them. Terms like Bennifer (Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez) and Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) have already served their purpose and joined the many other words that we no longer use. There are, in turn, many others surprisingly resistant to oblivion: terms like « bromance », « dramedy », « romcom », « infomercial » and « advertorial » seem to have carved out a place in the common parlance.
Oxford University Press recently announced plans to bring them all together in one dictionary, but given the speed with which the language evolves, it’s unknown when the publication will be finished. If it ever will.