Tag Archives: English language

New Words for Old by Caroline Taggart

newThis book is a celebration of the versatility of language: the neologisms and portmanteaus that have slipped into modern parlance. From the origins of the emoticon (in 1912, would you believe) to a glorious section on the symbolism of colours, it’s a lovely book to keep and dip into.

Did you know that ‘rock and roll’ is named after the motion of a ship? You roll one way and rock the other, which a chap thought would alliterate nicely in a song for a ship-based musical he was working on.

I had no idea that ‘zoom’ was an adjective, describing a humming noise, before becoming a verb in the late nineteenth century when cars and such came in and a word was needed to describe the way they flew by.

Nor did I know that ‘focus’ is Latin for ‘hearth’ or ‘fireplace’, which was the centre, the focus, of the household.

As you can see, I found this just the most interesting, absorbing thing. The joy of etymology is the mutability of language, and Caroline Taggart communicates this perfectly.

Are you a massive word nerd like me? Your best etymological discoveries in the comments please!

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Why Lewis Carroll Never Travelled Without his Portmanteau

portmanteau 1Portmanteau words are when two terms are combined to make one: brunch, motels, glitterati, jazzercize, puggles, ligers, sitcoms, sporks, keytars, jeggings, mocktails, bromance – all of my favourite things! Why make a totally new word when you can just shove two together.

Lewis Carroll utterly loved doing this. He invented the word chortle by combining chuckle and snort.

Galumph = gallop + triumph

Frumious = fuming + furious

Frabjous = fair + joyous

He also originated this usage of portmanteau in Through the Looking Glass. In Lewis Carroll’s time, in English, a portmanteau was a type of luggage which consisted of two compartments, folding into one. He posited it as the perfect solution to that moment when you want to say two different words at once, and a combination flows out.

portmanteauHumpty Dumpty says, “You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word…Well then, “mimsy” is “flimsy and miserable” (there’s another portmanteau for you).”

From the Latin for portare – to carry and mantellum –a cloak, the word itself combines two aspects. Although it sounds French, in modern French it apparently means hat stand, which is no use to us whatsoever.

The Internet is filled with portmanteau names for things – blog, Wikipedia, email, Skype, Pinterest etc. It’s a good way to name a new phenomenon: combining two familiar terms to make something entirely new, but please don’t push it. I’m looking at you, Sharknado.

Do you have a favourite (or least favourite) portmanteau word? Comments please!

Have you found this interesting? Please like or share.

2015 marks the 150th Anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Find out more here.

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