Portmanteau, pronounced “port-man-tow,” refers to a new word made from two words and their meanings. For example, the portmanteau brunch refers to a combined meal of breakfast and lunch, and spork is a mix between a spoon and a fork. Keep reading for 100 more examples of creative combined words, perfect for the 21st century.
The original meaning of portmanteau means “suitcase” in French, implying that two words are packed inside. Writers use portmanteaus (or portmanteaux) to make their word choice more interesting. Portmanteaus show that a writer’s creativity infuses the very words they use.
Many nonsense portmanteaus were created by authors such as James Joyce, Charles Dickens, and Lewis Carroll. However, other portmanteaus have made their way into our everyday speech and reading, like popular Spanglish words. Check out these examples of portmanteaus from entertainment, news, technology, and more.
Lots of entertainment buzzwords are actually portmanteaus. They abbreviate concepts for movies, television, and music to make them more appealing to an audience. Here are some portmanteau words that you may have read in an entertainment magazine:
- Bollywood (Bombay + Hollywood) - the Indian film industry
- brony (bro/brother + My Little Pony) - male fandom of the My Little Pony series
- biopic (biography + picture) - biographical movie about a real person’s life
- cosplay (costume + roleplay) - hobby in which people (roleplayers) dress up and act as fictional characters offstage
- dramedy (drama + comedy) - a story that has both dramatic and comedic elements
- edutainment (education + entertainment) - entertainment meant to inform its viewers
- infomercial (information + commercial) - advertisement that relays information
- listicle (list + article) - article that features a list of items
- mockumentary (mock + documentary) - a fictional story in the style of a documentary movie
- newscast (news + broadcast) - television or radio show about current events
- Pokémon (pocket + monsters) - popular Japanese animation about fictional creatures that battle each other
- prequel (previous + sequel) - sequel to a film or book that occurs earlier in the fictional timeline than its predecessor
- romcom (romance + comedy) - a comedy story that has elements of a romance
- sitcom (situation + comedy) - narrative comedy story based on a specific situation
- telethon (television + marathon) - continuous televised fundraiser
In addition to the portmanteaus above, you’ll see many examples in celebrity couple names. Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Joe), Kimye (Kim Kardashian and Kanye West), and J-Rod (Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez) are all portmanteaus!
The news media is another area that creates a lot of portmanteaus. It makes their content readable and engaging for an audience. Here are a few popular portmanteaus that you may see while skimming a news article or broadcast:
- affluenza (affluent + influenza) - belief that a person’s wealthy status causes lack of motivation and empathy
- botox (botulism + toxin) - dermatological procedure that injects a strain of botulism into the skin to prevent and treat wrinkles
- Brexit (Britain + exit) - the 2016 referendum for Britain to leave the European Union
- Ebonics (ebony + phonics) - term to describe a common dialect in the American black community
- Juneteenth (June + nineteenth) - Freedom Day in the black community that commemorates the emancipation of the last American slaves and the official end of slavery
- Medicare (medical + care) - a government-funded healthcare plan for specific citizens
- Movember (Mo + November) - an awareness month where me grow facial hair to raise money for men's health organizations
- Obamacare (Barack Obama + healthcare) - popular term for the Affordable Healthcare Act passed during the Obama presidency)
- Reaganomics (Ronald Reagan + economics) - “trickle-down” economic policy in the Reagan presidency)
- smog (smoke + fog) - polluted air
- stagflation (stagnation + inflation) - a continuous period of high inflation and unemployment
Another popular portmanteau in the news comes from the Nixon administration. You may notice that any political scandal is often coupled with the word gate (e.g., pizzagate, Russiagate, Monicagate, Weinergate). The media often creates a portmanteau with the word Watergate from the infamous Watergate hotel break-in to imply that a particular event is scandalous.
Many portmanteaus are hiding in the dictionary as regular words! Take a look at the list below to learn which words you may not have known are actually portmanteaus.
- ampersand (and + per se + and) - & symbol that means “and”
- dumbfounded (dumb + confounded) - surprised into silence
- electrocute (electricity + execute) - to kill with electricity
- flare (flair + glare) - a burst of light
- fortnight (fourteen + night) - period of fourteen nights, or two week
- gerrymander (Elbridge Gerry + salamander) - redistricting an area to include favorable voters for a politician or party (named for Governor Elbridge Gerry who started the practice in 1812, and the salamander-shaped district he created in Massachusetts)
- motel (motor + hotel) - lodging designed for motorists
- shepherd (sheep + herder) - person who minds a flock of sheep
- splatter (splash + spatter) - wet messy marks
- squander (scatter + wander) - to spend one’s time or money frivolously
- stash (store + cache) - hidden collection of valuables
- taxicab (taximeter + cabriolet) - automobile that transports paying customers to their destinations
- Velcro (velvet + crochet) - brand of fabric adhesives
If you go back far enough into any word’s etymology, you’ll find any number of portmanteaus that helped create it. English is a fascinating language in that way!
The technological world is infamous for its nicknames, acronyms, and abbreviations. But most technological shorthand is actually made of portmanteaus! See how many of these technological words you already knew.
- adware (advertising + software) - online advertisements that generate revenue
- animatronics (animation + electronics) - mechanical puppets
- bionic (biology + electronic) - mechanical body parts
- bit (binary + digit) - basic unit of digital information
- blog (web + log) - online journal or diary (vlog is the term for “video log”)
- breathalyzer (breath + analyzer) - tool for analyzing someone’s alcohol consumption by scanning their breath
- cyborg (cybernetic + organism) - robotic human or animal
- email (electronic + mail) - electronic method of communication
- emoticon (emotion + icon) - typed symbols that appear to show faces (e.g., :) ) before the introduction of emoji
- imagineer (imagine + engineer) - an engineer who works on creative projects
- intercom (internal + communication) - loudspeaker system that sends audio messages to selected people
- malware (malicious + software) - software designed to cause damage to a computer or network
- modem (modulator + demodulator) - device that transmits data from one computer to another
- netiquette (network + etiquette) - proper online behavior and manners
- pixel (picture + element) - an individual photographic element of a televised or computerized image
- podcast (iPod + broadcast) - an audio talk show that was first available on iPods
- webinar (web + seminar) - meeting or lesson available on the Internet
The late 20th-century trend of adding the prefix e- to anything electronic is one of the earlier uses of technological portmanteaus. The same answer goes for the prefix web- and the suffix -log, both of which have a strong presence in our vocabulary today.
Some of your favorite new foods may actually be portmanteaus. Words like froyo and frappuccino are embedded in our modern culinary lexicon – and they’re delicious, too! Other common food portmanteaus include:
- cronut (croissant + doughnut) - flaky iced pastry
- frappuccino (frappé + cappuccino) - iced coffee drink
- froyo (frozen + yogurt) - frozen treat made of yogurt
- gastropub (gastronomy + pub/public house) - pub or bar that serves food
- grapple (grape + apple) - hybrid of a grape and an apple
- mocktail (mock + cocktail) - cocktail without alcohol
- popsicle (pop + icicle) - frozen treat made of juice
- pluot (plum + apricot) - hybrid stone fruit, also known as plumcot or aprium
- Silk (soy + milk) - line of soy milk products
- Spam (spiced + ham) - canned meat product
- tofurky (tofu + turkey) - tofu food product flavored to taste like turkey
Several crops have been crossbred to create new foods. Pluots are just one example of two fruits that come together for a new purpose. Who knows what the future holds for your other favorite foods?
Crossbreeding occurs in the animal world as well. It occurs in domesticated animals, captive animals, and even in the wild. Check out these portmanteaus derived from brand-new animal breeds.
Crossbred dogs, also known as designer breeds, are popular because of their desirable characteristics. Many of these dog breeds end in -doodle or -poo, indicating that the dog has been crossbred with a poodle. Poodles are popular dogs for crossbreeding because of their hypoallergenic fur.
Examples of dog breed portmanteaus include:
- Aussiedoodle - offspring of an Australian Shepherd and a Poodle
- Chug - offspring of a Chihuahua and a Pug
- Cockapoo - offspring of a Cocker Spaniel and a Poodle
- Horgi - offspring of a Husky and a Corgi
- Labradoodle - offspring of a Labrador and a Poodle
- Maltipoo - offspring of a Maltese and a Poodle
- Pitsky - offspring of a Pit Bull and a Husky
- Puggle - offspring off a Pug and a Beagle
Dogs aren’t the only animals with new names! Here are more examples of animals that have been crossbred in captivity or in the wild, and their portmanteau names:
- Beefalo - offspring of a buffalo and a cow, also known as Cattalo
- Cama - offspring of a camel and a llama
- Coywolf - offspring of a coyote and a wolf
- Geep - offspring of a goat and a sheep
- Grolar Bear - offspring of a grizzly bear and a polar bear
- Liger - offspring of a lion and a tiger, also known as a Tigion
- Wallaroo - offspring of a wallaby and a kangaroo
- Wholphin - offspring of a false killer whale and a dolphin
- Zonkey - offspring of a zebra and a donkey
Many of these animals are sterile, meaning they cannot reproduce with another animal. They are also very rare and almost always found in captivity.
Have you ever heard a new slang word that sounded like two words mixed together? Now you know that it probably was! Read these popular portmanteaus that might crop up in your everyday conversations:
- athleisure (athletic + leisure) - comfortable sports attire meant for leisure
- brainiac (brain + maniac) - a very smart person
- bromance (bro/brother + romance) - close friendship between two males
- chillax (chill + relax) - admonition to tell someone to calm down
- fauxhawk (faux and mohawk) - hairstyle that is styled to look like a mohawk
- frenemy (friend + enemy) - friends who don’t always get along, or enemies who don’t always fight with each other
- ginormous (gigantic/giant + enormous) - very large
- glamping (glamorous + camping) - camping with luxurious settings and supplies
- guesstimate (guess + estimate) - an estimate made without enough information or data
- hangry (hungry + angry) - the feeling you get when your hunger affects your emotions
- jeggings (jeans + leggings) - leggings that look like denim jeans
- mansplain (man + explain) - term for when a man oversimplifies an obvious fact, usually to a woman
- sheeple (sheep + people) - derogatory term for those who are perceived to follow orders and avoid critical thinking
- snark (snide + remark) - a sarcastic or dry comment
- staycation (stay + vacation) - a vacation in one’s own town
- threepeat (three + repeat) - a three-time repeat of an event, usually a championship
- twerk (twist + jerk) - dance move that involves jerking your bottom half at something
Another common portmanteau you might find is alcoholic + something addictive (e.g., workaholic, shopaholic, chocoholic, rageaholic). It’s so commonly used that many people believe that -holic is a suffix for “addiction.” However, it’s just a conversational portmanteau that has taken on the last part of alcohol in many forms.
Like many helpful and delightful words, portmanteau comes from literature. It first appeared in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass in a quote from Humpty Dumpty:
“Well, ‘slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy’ and ‘mimsy’ is ‘flimsy and miserable’. You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.”
A master of word use and creative word choice, Carroll created an entirely new genre of etymology in one quote. Portmanteau itself is even a portmanteau! It’s French for “suitcase,” and combines the words porter, which means “to carry,” and manteau, which means “cloak.”
It’s tempting to say that portmanteaus are just like compound words, but they’re not. Compound words like firefighter and ladybug also use two words to make a new word. However, in a portmanteau, one or both of the words is shortened in a clever way.
Portmanteau words are a great way to add creativity to your writing with wordplay. Audiences love clever word choice in writing, and it doesn’t get more clever than creating your own words. For more wordplay ideas, take a look at an article that provides examples of malapropisms.