Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Marginal Member Blends

I knew what a portmanteau was in the Lewis Carroll sense long before I ever saw a non-Carrollian portmanteau. Actually, I've never seen a non-Carrollian portmanteau in the flesh, and I'm not sure exactly what it is, other than a sort of suitcase. Here's a picture of one, anyway:

(HT: I stole the picture from a blog about portmanteaux. If that's how you pluralize it.)

My Intro to Linguistics textbook chose to use the more dignified term blend to describe a word that combines two independent words (e.g., smoke + fog = smog). I've been wondering recently about what motivates people to coin blends. Obviously, pure inspiration and the delight of wordplay are a big part of it. You say the words and suddenly feel the joint where they can be collapsed into each other.

Some blends are halfway between their two constituents (brunch), or both constituents at the same time, even paradoxically so (frenemy).

The class of blends I refer to in the title of this post are those that describe an unusual, unexpected, or marginal member of a category. These take a head noun for the category and combine it with a modifier that shows the marginality.

For example, "Nick used to be a manny" (man + nanny). "This year we're going away for real: no more staycations" (stay + vacation). Webinar, etc.


Pirate Jimmy said...


Chaka said...

That would be a "simultaneously element 1 and 2" situation.