Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Neo-Portmanteau

Oasis CholestPrevent by lilasandoz
Oasis CholestPrevent, a photo by lilasandoz on Flickr.
I have said that I like portmanteau words, but this is pushing it.

A word about portmanteaus: the word is French, meaning "a compartmentalized suitcase". It's applied in linguistics to mean a word made of two or more combined words--or a word with "compartments". Portmanteau-ing is very popular right now, especially in the media, where every couple's names are mashed together like "Brangelina" and "TomKat" and the great grand-daddy of them all, "Bennifer".

Japanese language lends easily to portmanteau words, making creations such as パソコン (paso-con) from パオナルコンピュター (pasonaru-conpyutaa), whereas English shortens personal computer to PC. In fact, Pokemon is also a Japanese portmanteau of English-borrowed Pocket Monsters.

Antioxidant, though not itself a portmanteau or neologism, is a new, hip word in the world of food and health products. Marketing campaigns have popped up just about everywhere to try to shill blueberries, cranberries, and pomegranates because of their oxygen-blocking qualities. (As if our bodies were supposed to have no access to oxygen at all.) The trend is saturating the market with these big words, so in order not to alienate the third-grade-reading-level public, they have to try to make the meanings of the words as obvious as possible.

Which is where "CholestPrevent" comes in. It's troublesome because it's too long to be a good portmanteau, and rather than combining two nouns, it combines a noun with a verb. That's not a portmanteau, that's just a verb phrase without a space.

I'm sure there's an actual word for a product that prevents the buildup of bad cholesterol, but it's probably five syllables too long. And most people don't know it off the top of their heads (I don't), nor would they recognize it if they saw it. So we have products with labels like these. I can only pray that this word never makes it into the vernacular.

What's your favorite (or least favorite) portmanteau word?

1 comment:

  1. I too love myself a good portmanteau. Probably because when done right, they bump up against good old fashioned word-play. To my knowledge, the French portmanteau is actually used to describe an upright steamer trunk, designed both to hold packed clothes as well as having an upright hanging closet -- just like it's english usage, it refers to two things mashed together.

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