Tag Archives: etymology

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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Auto-antonyms

An auto-antonym, also known as a contranym, is a word that has two opposing  meanings. It has a homograph (a word of the same spelling) that has a contradictory or opposite meaning. They usually result from the word, or similar sounding words, arriving in English from two separate languages and retaining both meanings. However, sometimes they are a result of a old word taking on a new colloquial meaning.

Here are some examples:

Cool can mean good or pleasant, but it can also mean less than agreeable. Compare the following:

‘The play was cool.’
‘The play received a cool reception.’

Dusting can mean removing dust or, in the case of fingerprints, applying dust.

Fast can either mean to do something quickly or not to move at all as in ‘holding fast’.

Left is another: ‘after he left she was left.’ It means both to go and to remain.

Weather as a verb has the contradictory meanings of withstanding and wearing away.

‘They weathered the storm.’
‘It was weathered by the storm.’

For your writing, it is worth being aware of auto-antonyms so that you can spot any usage that might be confusing. Additionally, you can purposefully use words with contradictory meanings to give ambiguity or intrigue to your text. This is sometimes seen in poetry.

Can you think of any other auto-antonyms or good examples of their usage? Tell me in the comments!

As always, if you have found this interesting, please do like and share.

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