Special Realizations of Morphemes: Portmanteau Words

Source of the picture:

'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.'

'I see it now,' Alice remarked thoughtfully: 'and what are "toves"?'

'Well, "toves" are something like badgers -- they're something like lizards -- and they're something like corkscrews.'

'They must be very curious-looking creatures.'

'They are that,' said Humpty Dumpty; 'also they make their nests under sun-dials -- also they live on cheese.'

'And what's to "gyre" and to "gimble"?'

Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky

The term Portmanteau Word was first introduced by Lewis Carroll to describe many of his unusual words to be found in his poem Jabberwocky. Not only in literary works by Lewis Carroll and James Joyce but also in everyday advertisement, portmanteau words are ubiquitous.

Traditionally, a portmanteau word, which is also called blend is composed of two or even more words, e.g.chortle as derived from the merging of chuckle and snort of the classic example smog (smoke and fog). Based on the combining of two or even more morphemes, it appears rather difficult to distinctively assign the sounds to either of the morphemes.

Bauer presents two different ways in which portmanteau words can be constructed. The more common case shows that the new word is created only from parts of the words, as we see in chortle. Here, there is no apparent principle to state why the combination of chuckle and snort creates the word chortle instead of snuckle. In the second case, the two words overlap phonetic as well as orthographic, as we can see with smog. For clarification, take a look at the following list:

  • glass + asphalt -> glasphalt
  • slang + language -> slanguage
  • guess + estimate -> guestimate
  • swell + elegant -> swelegant

(Bauer 1988, 39)

Because of the lack of apparent principles in producing partmanteau words, "it is [...] extremely doubtful whether such words can be analysed into morphs, and thus whether they form a real part of morphology." (Bauer 1988, 39)