MY YEAR OF NEW WORDS, PART 2: Blending

Blends are words formed by taking two (or more) words and pushing them together, dropping some sounds and letters. So “smoke + fog” become “smog, breakfast + lunch” becomes“brunch”, “spoon + fork” becomes “spork”. You see what’s going on.

Lots of words common words are blends: bash (bang + smash), Muppet (marionette + puppet), dumbfound (dumb + confound), sitcom (situation + comedy), squiggle (squirm + wiggle), ginormous (giant + enormous), glitz (glamour + ritz), glob (gob + blob), guesstimate (guess + estimate) and of course hassle (haggle + tussle). Some blends can be quite clever, like bananus (banana + anus) for the brown part at the end of a banana or flempty (full + empty) for half full and half empty. Both are from the Urban Dictionary and good for a laugh in an introduction to linguistics class. Notice how empfuljust doesn’t work. Blends need to sounds like real words and be transparent in their meanings. And does anyone say knork (knife +fork)?

Blends, by the way, are sometimes called portemanteau words. A portemanteau was a “large suitcase with two halves that close together. It’s from Middle French porter (to carry) + manteau (mantle).

I tried to start the year with a triple blend resolvevolvolution from resolve + evolve + resolution. It doesn’t roll well off the tongue. But we have to start somewhere. One of my favorites was flossolalia, blending floss + glossolalia (speaking in tongues) to refer to unintelligible speech that occurs when you talk to someone while flossing your teeth (my wife wants me to make it clear that this is my vice, not hers).

There’s preventertainment for school programs featuring local celebrities warning about gangs, drug use, sex, drinking, etc. and flabricate meaning to lie about one’s waist size or weight. There’s snubbub for a noisy misunderstanding arising from a perceived slight and punxatognostication (PUNK-suh-TOG-nos-TIK-a -SHUN) for predictions made by a groundhog from (Punxsutawney + prognostication). I don’t expect that one to catch on, but I’d love to see news anchors try it.

I overheard (“witheard) a former student tweet hangry (to become angry due to hunger). Another student suggested movementum (the rate at which a popular, coordinated action proceeds). Dawndle (not getting out of bed when the alarm goes off), from dawn + dawdle, worked nicely but textumble (to fall up or down steps while texting, or the fall itself) was a head-scratcher: should it be textstumble from text + stumble ortext tumble from text + tumble (and why is stumble so similar to tumbleanyway?)

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology was released by Oxford University Press in June of 2014.
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