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Definition

portmanteau

A portmanteau is a word created from two other words, or parts of words, that both contribute to its meaning. 

Portmanteaus (or portmanteaux) abound in information technology (IT), where new products and services come to market frequently and marketing experts suggest that a name should be descriptive of what it represents. 

Here's a sampling of technology-related portmanteaus: 

  • Cyborg, from cybernetics and organism, is a creature -- such as a human -- that is also part machine.
  • Pinterest, from pin and interest, is a social curation website for sharing and categorizing images found online.
  • Sexting, from sex and texting, is the act of sending or receiving sexually-explicit images and messages, typically between cell phones.
  • Webinar, from Web and seminar, is an educational, informative or instructional presentation that is made available online, usually as either video or audio with slides.
  • Kinect, from kinetic and connect, is a motion sensor add-on for the Xbox 360 gaming console that allows users to interact intuitively without a controller.

Lewis Carroll first used portmanteau to describe combination words. In “Through the Looking Glass,” Humpty Dumpty explained words like “slithy” (slimy + lithe) and “mimsy” (miserable + flimsy)  to Alice in the nonsense poem “Jabberwocky”: ‘You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.’

Portmanteau is an archaic word for suitcase, made from the French words for carry (porter) and cloak (manteau). As such, the word portmanteau is a portmanteau itself.

 

See also: acronym, anacronym

This was last updated in September 2013

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