If you want to make a new word, here's a proven recipe to try.
Chop the tail off of one word and lop the head off of another, then stitch what's left of the two words together. Whether you call the result a word blend, a portmanteau, or even a Frankenword, such compounds are all over the English language, which is itself a smorgasbord of plenty of other languages.
A few recent and trendy examples of portmanteaus are humblebrag and mansplain. Humblebrag slams together humble and brag to name and shame those allegedly humble statements (usually online) that are actually braggadocious. Mansplain chops the head off explain and replaces it with man to describe that tendency some fellas have to explain everything to death, whether we know a thing about it or not. I could go on.
While these pieced-together portmanteaus aren't as frightening as Frankenstein's monster, you can still see the stitching.
Want to learn these words and more? Check out the Portmanteaus: Vocab Mash-Ups vocabulary list, and start practicing!
This is one of many fanciful coinages of author Lewis Carroll, first appearing in a neologism-filled passage from 1871's Through the Looking Glass: "'O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!' He chortled in his joy." It's easy to see the similarity to the words chuckle and snort, but whether or not Carroll sewed those words together, he came up with the perfect word for a short, nasal laugh — often a laugh you’re trying to stifle.
It may seem like blogs have been around as long as cave paintings, but this is still a newish word that was first spotted in 1999. Combining web and log, blog became a trendy word for your uncle's online diary of Grateful Dead concerts or your grandmother's internet reviews of antique swords. Or whatever grandmothers are into. Twitter, which has become much more popular since the early days of blogs, is essentially a microblog. Maybe someday communication will get even more concise and we'll get nanoblogs.
Like the origin of so many words, the birth of meld isn't definitive. But a pretty good guess is that it's a mix of melt and weld, two other words that suggest things being broken down and put together in a new way. Lots of stuff can be melded: two companies merging, two folks marrying, or two dog breeding, à la the puggle (a mix of pug and beagle). Melding can involve the merging of pretty much any two things, but my favorite use is mind meld: Mr. Spock's Vulcan trick of telepathically mixing his mind with someone else's. Actually, that's more of a mind invasion, but meld sounds more becoming of a Starfleet officer.
Smoggy is the adjective form of smog, a classic portmanteau and pretty much perfect word, combining the words smoke and fog, just like how actual smoke and actual fog combine, regrettably for our lungs, to create smog. Smog has been found in the English language since at least 1905, and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) captures what appears to be the first usage, from The Daily Graphic newspaper:
In the engineering section of the Congress Dr. H. A. des Vœux, hon. treasurer of the Coal Smoke Abatement Society, read a paper on 'Fog and Smoke'. He said it required no science to see that there was something produced in great cities which was not found in the country, and that was smoky fog, or what was known as 'smog'.
Dumbfound is dumb plus confound minus con-, and the meaning is similar to confound. When you're confounded or dumbfounded, you can't figure out what's going on. When you dumbfound someone, you befuddle them. Being dumbfounded is a lot more than being confused. A dumbfounding turn of events makes your head spin and boggles your mind.
If you're a fan of science fiction, you're probably familiar with cyborgs: part-human, part-mechanical folks. The ingredients of this term, which has been around since 1960, are cybernetic and organism. The OED defines a cyborg as "A person whose physical tolerances or capabilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by a machine or other external agency that modifies the body's functioning; an integrated man-machine system." While cyborgs are often seen wreaking havoc (or saving the day) in sci-fi, technically, some people are cyborgs, since many of us are enhanced by technology, from pacemakers to hearing aids to artificial legs. In the future, we might all be cyborgs, and it could be a good thing.
When something happens in a certain circumstance for no discernible reason — perhaps by luck, good, bad, or dumb — you can call it a happenstance. Happenstance is a solid alternative to coincidence. Besides being a noun, happenstance does double duty as an adjective. When something happens by chance, you can describe it as happenstance.
Incidentally, improving your vocabulary doesn't just happen by happenstance. It takes reading, playing Vocabulary.com, looking stuff up in dictionaries, and appeasing the lexical gods. Fortunately, those gods are easily appeased: just keep learning more words, folks.
Mark Peters is a language columnist, lexicographer, and humorist who has written for Esquire, The Funny Times, New Scientist, Psychology Today, Salon, and Slate. He contributes to OUPblog and writes the Best Joke Ever column for McSweeney's. You can read Mark's own jokes on Twitter, such as, "I play by my own rules, which is probably why no one comes to my board game parties anymore."Click here to read other articles by Mark Peters
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