You might not be familiar with the term portmanteau, but you likely use portmanteaus in your vocabulary and writing more than you realize.
A portmanteau (pronounced port-MAN-toe) is a word made by blending at least two words. The new word combines both the sounds and meanings of the originals.
To form a portmanteau, usually the first segment of one word is attached to the final segment of another word. Some portmanteau words are blended in other ways, like combining the initial segments of both words.
Why is it called a portmanteau?
Author Lewis Carroll describes the idea of portmanteaus in his book Through the Looking-Glass:
“Well, ‘SLITHY’ means ‘lithe and slimy.’ ‘Lithe’ is the same as ‘active.’ You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.”
The word portmanteau itself is an appropriate embodiment of this word form, since portmanteau, which is French for porte (“to carry”) + manteau (“cloak”), describes a suitcase that opens in two halves. Portmanteaus “carry” both meanings of their word pairs.
What is the function of a portmanteau?
A portmanteau is a literary device that encourages linguistic creativity. By combining two distinct words into one, a new word is created that holds its own specific meaning.
This wordplay expands the boundaries of language while also keeping readers engaged in the creative work.
56 common and unexpected portmanteau examples
1 advertorial (advertisement + editorial) – an advertisement that takes the form of a written editorial
2 affluenza (affluence + influenza) – unhealthy feelings of entitlement or lack of motivation experienced by wealthy people
3 alphanumeric (alphabetic + numeric) – consisting of letters and numbers
4 animatronics (animation + electronics) – the electronic animation of puppets or similar figures to create lifelike effects
5 anklet (ankle + bracelet) – jewelry designed to wrap around the ankle
6 athleisure (athletic + leisure) – comfortable clothing that can be worn for exercise or as casual, everyday attire
7 biopic (biography + picture) – a biographical film
8 Bollywood (Bombay + Hollywood) – the Indian film industry
9 Botox (botulism + toxin) – an injectable drug that uses a strain of botulism to treat signs of aging on the skin
10 brainiac (brain + maniac) – a highly intelligent person
11 breathalyzer (breath + analyzer) – a device used to analyze a person’s breath for their blood alcohol content or to detect viruses
12 Brexit (Britain + exit) – the withdrawal of Great Britain from the European Union in 2020, after voting to leave in a 2016 referendum
13 bromance (brother + romance) – a close platonic relationship between two male friends
14 brunch (breakfast + lunch) – a meal that takes place between breakfast and lunch hours
15 carjack (car + hijack) – theft of an automobile using violence or intimidation
16 celebutante (celebrity + debutante) – a wealthy person who receives media attention akin to that of a celebrity
17 chillax (chill + relax) – to calm down
18 cosplay (costume + roleplay) – an art or practice where people dress as fictional characters
19 cyborg (cybernetic + organism) – a creature with human features created using mechanical components
20 dumbfounded (dumb + confounded) – astonished or utterly speechless
21 electrocute (electricity + execute) – to harm or kill with electricity
22 email (electronic + mail) – the electronic alternative to paper mail communication
23 emoticon (emotion + icon) – facial expressions or emotions expressed through keyboard symbols
24 froyo (frozen + yogurt) – a frozen dessert made of yogurt
25 frenemy (friend + enemy) – someone who acts like or pretends to be a friend despite an underlying rivalry
26 fortnight (fourteen + night) – two weeks of fourteen nights
27 fauxhawk (faux + mohawk) – hair that’s styled to look like a mohawk
28 gastropub (gastronomy + pub) – a bar that serves gourmet food
29 glamping (glamorous + camping) – a style of camping that includes luxurious comforts and supplies
30 guesstimate (guess + estimate) – an estimate based on a hunch rather than data
31 hangry (hungry + angry) – irritable or angry as a result of hunger
32 hazmat (hazardous + material) – substances that could be dangerous if not properly contained
33 intercom (internal + communication) – a two-way speaker system used to communicate among people in a specific location
34 internet (interconnected + network) – a computer network of information
35 jeggings (jeans + leggings) – leggings designed to resemble denim jeans
36 Juneteenth (June + nineteenth) – the day that commemorates the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the end of slavery, in the United States
37 labradoodle (labrador + poodle) – a hybrid dog breed with parentage from a labrador retriever and a poodle
38 listicle (list + article) – an article formatted as a list
39 mansplain (man + explain) – to explain something (usually to a woman) in a condescending or patronizing manner
40 Medicare (medical + care) – the government-administered US health insurance program for people with disabilities and those who are age sixty-five or older; similar to Medicaid (medical + aid), the health insurance program for people with limited income.
41 metaverse (meta + universe) – a virtual environment meant for social connection
42 mocktail (mock + cocktail) – a cocktail that contains no alcohol
43 motel (motor + hotel) – a hotel designed for motorists
44 newscast (news + broadcast) – a radio or television segment that features current events
45 Obamacare (Obama + healthcare) – a colloquial term that describes the Affordable Care Act created under President Barack Obama’s administration
46 pluot (plum + apricot) – a hybrid stone fruit that combines the characteristics of a plum and an apricot
47 podcast (iPod + broadcast) – a digital audio program that can be downloaded and listened to on demand
48 Pokémon (pocket + monsters) – an animated Japanese media franchise centered around creatures that are kept in pocket-sized balls and trained to battle each other
49 popsicle (pop + icicle) – a frozen dessert, typically made with fruit juice or fruit flavor
50 romcom (romance + comedy) – a show or movie plot that blends comedy and romance; similar to “sitcom,” which is a portmanteau word combining situational + comedy
51 spork (spoon + fork) – an eating utensil that severs as both a spoon and a fork
52 stash (store + cache) – a secret hiding place where valuables are kept
53 threepeat (three + repeat) – a situation or event with the same outcome three times, typically in reference to a sporting event, like a championship
54 vlog (video + log) – a video-based diary published online
55 webinar (web + seminar) – a presentation or seminar held online
56 Wi-Fi (wireless + fidelity) – the wireless technology that allows devices to connect to each other and to the internet
What is a portmanteau?
A portmanteau is a blended word made of two or more other words. Portmanteau words adopt the meanings of both words.
Why is it called a portmanteau?
The French word portmanteau describes a two-part suitcase. It combines the words porte, which means “to carry,” and manteau, meaning “cloak.” Like the suitcase, a portmanteau word holds or carries the meaning of two or more words.
What are some common examples of portmanteaus?
Common examples of portmanteaus are “internet” (interconnected + network), labradoodle (labrador + poodle), and spork (spoon + fork).
What are some other words for portmanteaus?
A portmanteau is a type of literary device. It’s often mistaken for a compound word but is linguistically different since portmanteaus don’t combine two complete words (like “firefighter”). Instead, portmanteau words blend parts of two distinct words.