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Definition: A large suitcase that opens into two parts, a compound word

Pronunciation: port-MAN-to


Portmanteau originates from the Middle French porter meaning to carry and manteaux meaning a mantle. As a suitcase synonym portmanteau has been known to the English language since the 1500s but the latter meaning only came about in 1871.

Why this word?

Portmanteau is a wonderful example to how literature actually changes language. Portmanteau, in and of itself, is a compound word made of the verb to carry and the noun mantle, since the best way of carrying stuff around would be a suitcase, this word came to represent a suitcase. But, since the word is a compound word, it came to represent a suitcase that opens into two parts. Here we see how words affect objects in real life and how objects reflect words that are coined following them. This is the beauty in the duality between words and the objects they come to represent.

However, it doesn’t end here- we still don’t know how portmanteau came to represent a compound word- we have Lewis Carol to thank for this (and many other things of course).

In his 1871 Through the Looking-Glass, Humpty Dumpty explains Alice how unusual words are coined for Jabberwocky, the nonsense poem. Jabberwocky includes the practice of combining words into new meanings, such as slithy meaning lithe and slimy or mimsy meaning flimsy and miserable. When Alice finds it hard to understand, Humpty Dumpty tells her ‘You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.’

And since then portmanteau came to represent a compound word as well.

How to use the word portmanteau in a sentence?

Honestly, although the story behind the word is pretty neat, the word itself really just means a large suitcase or a compound word…

“Why do you need your entire portmanteau for a two-day vacation??”

“My favorite portmanteau is snowball!”


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Written by Victoria Sheinkin

Victoria Sheinkin is a writer, content editor, translator and chief editor for Speaking three and a half languages, she holds two BAs from the Tel Aviv university- Communication and jounalism, English literature and linguistics.


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