Today is the anniversary of the opening of the Chunnel, the tunnel that runs under the English Channel connecting France and England. In 1994, the 31 mile Chunnel was formally opened in a ribbon cutting ceremony by France's President Mitterrand and the Queen of England.
It took eight years to complete the Chunnel, but its name is consistent with a linguistic phenomenon that raged throughout the 20th century, and it doesn't look like there is a light at the end of the tunnel this century. The phenomenon is blending words, as in taking two words: channel and tunnel, and blending them into a single word: Chunnel.
It's appropriate that on the anniversary of the completion of the Chunnel that we have both an English and a French term to describe this word-merging phenomenon. Blend is the English term and portmanteau is the French equivalent. Portmanteau comes to us from the English poet Lewis Carroll who used the portmanteau -- a suitcase with two compartments that folds into one -- as a metaphor to describe the word blending that happens in the poem "Jabberwocky." Examples from the poem are chortle (chuckle + snort) and galumph (gallop + triumph). The popularity of Carroll's work not only added these new words to the English lexicon, it also seems to have encouraged others to try their hand at word blending (1).
In his book A Bawdy Language, Howard Richler traces the history of various blended words that that preceeded and followed Carroll's Jabberwocky, which was published in Through the Looking Glass in 1871.
1823 anecdotage - The tendancy for elderly people to tell stories, from anecdote + dotage.
1843 squirl - Handwriting with great flourishes, from squiggle + whirl.
1889 electrocute - Death by electricity, from electricity + execute.
1896 brunch - breakfast + lunch.
1925 motel - motor + hotel (2).
Blended words should not be confused with compound words, another popular method of adapting old words to create new ones. Unlike compound words, the two words that come together don't just latch onto each other; instead, at least one of the words, and often both, must lose some of themselves in the merger, as in the following more contemporary examples:
Reagonomics - Ronald Reagan + economics
Spanglish - Spanish + English
motorcade - motor + cavalcade
telecast - television + broadcast
tangelo - tangerine + pomelo
moped - motor + pedestrian
hazmat - hazardous + material
agribuiness - agriculture + business
blog - web + log
The Internet and technology are probably the most prolific source of new word blends these days. One interesting example is the term blook, which combines book with blog. USA Today featured an article on blooks on April 3, 2006, documenting the phenomenon of popular blogs morphing into books. The appropriate new word: blooks.
Today's Challenge: Grab Your Blender
In the tradition of Lewis Carroll, try your own hand at coining some new blended words today. Take two existing words and blend them into something new. Include a definition that makes the logical connection between the two words.
Quote of the Day: Wisdom will never be noticed since it always resides in order, calmness, harmony and peace. --Eliphas Levi
1 - Nunberg, Geoffrey. The Way We Talk Now. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.
2 - Richler, Howard. A Bawdy Language: How a Second-Rate Language Slept Its Way to the Top. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing, 1999.