I read this morning about maglev trains, which will be able to transport passengers some 300 miles in about half an hour. I wasn’t familiar with the word maglev, so I looked it up and found that it is a portmanteau word derived from magnetic and levitation.
Portmanteau words are words formed by combining parts of two words, each of which describes some aspect of an object. A portmanteau is a type of suitcase popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that consisted of two sections that folded together, each designed to carry a specific type of clothing. Portmanteau is itself a portmanteau word, derived from the French porter (“carry”) and manteau (“coat”).
As applied to words, the term was more or less invented by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking-Glass, when Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice the meaning and origin of some of the words in the nonsense poem “Jabberwocky.” For example, mimsy is a combination of miserable and flimsy, slithy comes from slimy and lithe, and chortle (which has found a permanent place in the English language) was created from chuckle and snort.
English has adopted a great many portmanteau words as standard: sitcom, labradoodle, infomercial, glitterati, newscast, televangelist, motorcycle, taxicab, botox, camcorder, carjack, cyborg, vitamin, motel, etc.
Like Ogden Nash, who called himself a “worsifier,” the Bard of Buffalo Bayou has also come up with a portmanteau word to describe himself: chrymester.
Said Lewis Carroll to Alice Liddell,
“Gee, little girl, I think you’re swell.
You’re so light that I can carry you,
You know, I think I’d like to marry you!”
Said Alice Liddell to Lewis Carroll,
“I’m afraid that you are over a barrel,
You might think wedlock would be heaven,
But you forget I’m just eleven.”
And Lewis said, “Tut, tut, a shame!
But wait! Instead, I’ll put your name
In my new book. Won’t that be grand?”
Ergo: “Alice in Wonderland.”