English Portmanteau Words

Have you ever felt so hungry that it made you angry? We call that feeling hangry in English! Ever wondered if someone was your friend or enemy? Frenemies! What's an icon that expresses an emotion? An emoticon!

What is a Portmanteau?

First, let's define portmanteau. A portmanteau word is a words that is made by combining two other words.

Portmanteau is a French word (pronounced /pɔːtˈmantəʊ/ in English) for a big suitcase that can hold many things. Because these words "hold" more than one other word inside them they were called portmanteaus by Lewis Carroll, the writer of Through the Looking Glass, who enjoyed using them in his writing).

Although the French plural of the word is portmanteaux, in English we can just say portmanteaus

More English Portmanteau Words

How we form portmanteaus

Usually, it's the first half of one word added to the second half off another word. For example, a TV show that has both drama and comedy is sometimes called a dramedy. If you want to chill and relax with your friends, you can say, We're just chillaxing. When they first made hotels that where you could park your motorcar, they called them motels.

Not all portmanteaus are formed in the same way, though. For example, you have probably heard the word sitcom used to describe shows like Friends and How I Met Your Mother, right? Well, sitcom comes from the phrase situational comedy. 

Surprising Portmanteaus

Oxford Dictionaries points out that there are some common words that you may not realize are portmanteaus: 

  • moped = motor + pedal
  • modem = modulator + demodulator
  • motel = motor + hotel
  • dumbfound = dumb + confound
  • bash = bang + smash
  • hassle = haggle + tussle

Examples of Common Portmanteaus in English

Here's a longer list of portmanteau examples. After each word in the list are the two words that form it and its definition. 

List of Portmanteau Words in English
# Word Part A Part B Definition
1 hangry hungry angry so hungry you are angry
2 motel motor hotel a hotel for people driving
3 podcast iPod broadcast a radio show for iPods or smartphones
4 spork spoon fork a spoon with tines on the end
5 brainiac brain maniac someone very smart
6 emoticon emotion icon an icon that expresses an emotion
7 snark snide remark sarcasm, especially online
8 dramedy drama comedy a show with both serious and funny parts
9 sitcom situational comedy a tv show based on funny situations
10 frankenfood Frankenstein food genetically modified food
11 Bollywood Bombay Hollywood the Indian movie industry
12 bromance brother romance a close friendship between men
13 crunk crazy drunk really drunk and crazy
14 edutainment education entertainment educational entertainment
15 mansplaining man explaining when men explains to women rudely

Can you add any to this list?

Using Portmanteaus

It's important to know that some portmanteaus, like chillax, are just for fun and extremely casual. We'd rarely use them in places like school or work. Others are not necessarily casual, but not used very commonly, such as dramedy. And then some have become everyday words, like motel and brunch.

In the media, it's common to combine the names of celebrities who are dating to refer to them as a couple. The first was Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie), and others have followed: Kimye (Kim Kardashian + Kanye West), Billary (Bill + Hillary Clinton).