Blend words (portmanteaus) in English

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more (PDF Version).

English speakers are very creative when it comes to making up new words by combining parts of words that already exist. For example, most people know that “brunch” is a combination of “breakfast” and “lunch”, but did you know that “smog” comes from “smoke” and “fog”?

There are lots and lots of such words in English, many more than in other European languages. One of the reasons for that is, of course, that English has many more speakers than other European languages (with the exception of Spanish), so there are more people who can potentially create a catchy new word.

Nevertheless, I believe that the main reason is much more pragmatic. English is a fairly analytic language, which in linguistic jargon refers to a language that, simply put, conveys the function of a word using word order and things like prepositions rather than endings and prefixes. Words in English are thought of as isolated units, whereas words in other European languages often carry additional information, and it is much easier to merge two isolated units than to merge two words carrying a lot of additional information, some of which would inevitably be lost during merging.

But enough of that theoretical nonsense. Let’s take a look at actual examples of such words in English.

English portmanteaus

A portmanteau is a type of blend word in which the beginning of one word is combined with the final part of another word. For example, it may surprise you that the word “bit” used in computing (as in “megabit”) is a portmanteau of ”binary” and “digit” (its development was probably influenced by the fact that “bit” already was an English word meaning a small amount of something). Sometimes the two parts may overlap, e.g. “smash”, which is composed of “smack” and “mash” with “ma” connecting the two parts.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common portmanteaus in English that are more or less accepted (note that the list excludes brand and product names, which are often based on a portmanteau):

alphanumeric = alphabetic + numeric
advertorial = advertisement +‎ editorial
bit = binary + digit (only in computing)
brainiac = brain + maniac
breathalyzer = breath + analyzer
Brexit = Britain + exit
brunch = breakfast + lunch
camcorder = camera + recorder
dumbfound = dumb (mute) + confound
electrocute = electro- + execute
email = electronic + mail
emoticon = emotion + icon
endorphin = endogenous + morphine
fanzine = fan + magazine
forex = foreign + exchange
guesstimate = guess + estimate
infomercial = information + commercial
keytar = keyboard + guitar
labradoodle = labrador + poodle
mechatronics = mechanics +‎ electronics
metrosexual = metropolitan +‎ heterosexual
moped = motor + pedals (borrowed from Swedish)
motel = motor + hotel
napalm = naphthenic + palmitic
Oxbridge = Oxford + Cambridge (used in the UK to refer collectively to the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge)
newscast = news + broadcast
paratrooper = parachute + troop + -er
phablet = phone + tablet
pulsar = pulsating + star
sexting = sex + texting
sheeple = sheep + people
smash = smack +‎ mash
smog = smoke + fog
Spanglish = Spanish + English
televangelist = television + evangelist
transistor = transconductance or transfer + resistor
vlog = video + blog (itself a shortening of web + log)
vitamin = vital + amine (introduced by a Polish biochemist when it was thought that all vitamins contained an amino acid)
webinar = web + seminar
workaholic = work + -a- + alcoholic

There is also an archaic word “cameleopard”, composed of “camel” and “leopard”, which means “giraffe”. If you are interested in the history of that word (and of the word “giraffe”), you can read my article about them.

Blend words combining the beginnings of two words

Another type of blend words, which are less common than portmanteaus in English, is formed by taking the first part of one word, the first part of another word, and merging them into one word. Here are the most common such words:

Amerind = American + Indian (referring to native Americans)
botox = botulism + toxin
cyborg = cybernetic + organism
cosplay = costume + play
hazmat = hazardeous + mataterial
modem = modulator + demodulator
sitcom = situation + comedy

By the way, if you haven’t read my guide on how to avoid the most common mistakes in English, make sure to check it out; it deals with similar topics.

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