‘Tis the season of portmanteau puns. As we embrace Stoptober and prepare for Movember, I’ve been reflecting upon the current popularity of this quaintly-named construction.
A portmanteau word is simply a word made from two existing words coupled together. Also called “blend words” in linguistics, the term “portmanteau” was coined by Lewis Carroll from the two-compartmented suitcase of that name (he also created some splendid portmanteau words, including the lovely “galumph”, a triumphant gallop). Handily, portmanteau itself is a French blended word, from “carry” and “coat”.
The English language has a ginormous (see?) range of these words. There are plenty of old favourites about – motel, smog, brunch, biopic, moped. Here in Cornwall, we see a lot of mizzle. Animal crossbreeds provide an obvious source: the queen keeps dorgis; my cousin has a labradoodle. My own favourite portmanteau word is spork. I liked the word so much, I even bought one. You are currently (I hope) reading a blog (web plus log minus we).
Recently, celebrity “supercouples” have created a whole new lexicon of mash-ups. In the beginning there was Bennifer, and since then Brangelina and Kimye – and, gulp, Jedward. Naturally, there are fashions. “Bro” is a current favourite in the world of portmanteau puns (“My Little Bronies” is a stand-out one…). I was pleased to see a Facebook page dedicated to “Making Bro Puns” – the brofficial page.
Like the bronies, if a portmanteau involves a bit of clever wordplay as well as a simple squishing together, it packs a greater pun(ch). Unsurprisingly, this is Good Stuff for slogans, and is currently being used to great effect by awareness-raising campaigns. We are currently in Stoptober, the NHS campaign to get smokers to quit for 28 days (erm, hello NHS? “Thirty days hath September” etc etc?). As I don’t smoke, I am currently “Going Sober for October” (Macmillan) – a clever little rhyme, but I’d much rather have a portmanteau pun to live by for a month. I like the idea of “Choctober”, giving up all things biscuity (copyright S Brown, Penzance).
Likewise, I can’t take part in November’s biggest awareness-raiser. The global Movember campaign has been extremely successful, with 4 million moustaches grown since 2003 and £346m dollars raised, together with getting people talking about men’s health issues. I am not sure how Fanuary went, mainly because I’m too scared to Google it.
The above campaigns have chosen their words wisely. We like portmanteau words because they are funny, memorable, and seem to be that bit more sophisticated than your average bit of wordplay. For more lovely portmanteau words, have a look through the list from the Wiki-elves, and embrace this most pleasing of puns.