What is a portmanteau, exactly? Well, for one, it’s a specific kind of trunk or suitcase — you know, the old-timey kind that’s made from leather and opens down the middle? In the context of this article, though, a portmanteau is a type of compound word that’s formed by blending two words together (e.g. “brunch,” an eating phenomenon that sits at the intersection of “breakfast” and “lunch”). If you’re listening to a podcast while you’re driving through smog, what you’re really doing is listening to an iPod broadcast (which is what podcasts were in their inception) as you drive through smoke-fog.
“Portmanteau” is actually itself a compound word that derives from the French porte-manteau, which comes from porter (“to carry”) and manteau (“cloak”). It was Lewis Carroll who first used it to describe the concept of two words smooshed together into one — like “a travelling case having two halves joined by a hinge.”
To be clear, a compound word is not a portmanteau. Still with me? A compound word is made up of two words that can still stand on their own when you take it apart. A portmanteau shaves syllables off its individual components so that they can more seamlessly fit together. You can’t eat “br,” and you can’t eat “unch” — though you can certainly eat breakfast, lunch and brunch.
As an ode to this concise format for adding new words to the dictionary, here are a few examples of portmanteau in other languages.
This is a not-so-nice word for teenagers that’s essentially a mashup of aborrecer (“annoy”) and adolescente (“adolescent or teenager”). Weren’t we all one once?
It may surprise you that vegan cheese is beginning to take off in a country that eats, breathes and sleeps dairy products. But leave it to the French to not only do vegan cheese well, but also come up with an elegant term that neatly blends faux (“fake”) with fromage (“cheese”).
This Japanese portmanteau is actually a transliterated mashup of an English and German word. How’s that for complex? This word translates roughly to “freeter” in English and is a blend of “freelance” and the German arbeiter (“worker”). A “freeter” is someone who’s barely subsisting in a gig economy, or stringing part-time jobs together. We have a similar portmanteau for this in English, too: “permalance.”
It doesn’t mean what you think! Mafia is a combination of matematika, fisika and kimia (math, physics and chemistry), three school subjects that are related enough to belong in the same word together (think “STEM,” but with a touch of Scarface).
A blend of turista (“tourist”) and peregrino (“pilgrim”), a turigrino is someone you might find hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain for non-religious reasons. Essentially, these are tourists coming along for the journey of what might be another person’s religious pilgrimage, perhaps just for the experience, or perhaps to reap the benefits offered along the way.
Vokuhila is a word for “mullet” that’s a condensed version of “vorne kurz, hinten lang,” which means “short in the front, long in the back.” Could the comparable “business in the front, party in the back” then be shortened to Busfropaba?