Humpty-Dumpty Words

One of my all-time favourite authors has been Lewis Carrol with his Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandThrough the Looking-Glass, and The Hunting of the Snark. More than the story it has been the language that always amused and fascinated me. The made-up, nonsensical sounding words like slithy and mimsy, frabjous and galumph were such fun to read aloud, and try to use in other contexts, even though one did not exactly know what they meant. Alice herself was equally confused on this count, and in the story she approaches Humpty Dumpty and asks him to elucidate the meaning of the some of these.  Humpty Dumpty replies: “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.” Humpty Dumpty uses the analogy of a portmanteau–the French word for a dual-compartment suitcase to explain that these are words that contain aspects of two distinct words fused into one new word. So ‘mimsy’ is a blending of flimsy and miserable, and  ‘frabjous’ is a blend of either fabulous and joyous, or fair and joyous, while  ‘galumph’ comes from a blend of ‘triumph’ and ‘gallop’.

And so it is that Humpty Dumpty introduced the concept and term Portmanteau words to describe a word that is formed by combining two different terms to create a new entity.

Today Portmanteau words have become so much a part of our vocabulary that we do not realise that they are blended and coined words. We use words like smog (smoke+fog), motel (motor+hotel), modem (modulation+demodulation), motorcade (motor+cavalcade), netizen (internet + citizen), and even internet (international+network), as if they have always been there.

Portmanteau words are a great favourite with the entertainment industry—from Cineplex, infotainment and infomercial, to Bollywood; from Brangelina to our own Nickyanka; from celebutant(e) to chillax we even have emoticons and fanzines that coin and create a whole new vocabulary!

People no longer rough it out, they go glamping (glamour+camping), and bigger than big is ginormous (giant+enormous)! There are some who suffer from affluenza (affluence+influenza), while others are beset with anticipointment (anticipation+disappointment), and both may end up as chocoholics (or workaholics)!? (There is even a word for !?–interrobang (interrogative+bang).

If we stop and think about the words that we use and see every day we would be surprised to find how many of these are Portmanteau words. And while we imagine that we are so trendy to be coining words like BREXIT, and yes, even BLOG, let us remember that Humpty Dumpty thought of it first in 1871!

–Mamata

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