We all know what a portmanteau is now. A word formed from the combination of two other words, smashed together. Examples might include ‘British exit’ as Brexit, ‘smog’ from smoke and fog, Biscoff – a biscuit for coffee. It’s often used for couples, who take their names and smash them together into one – Brangelina for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie being maybe the most famous. And it’s all thanks to Lewis Carroll and Humpty Dumpty.
In Through the Looking-Glass published in 1871, Lewis Carroll had Humpty Dumpty speak to Alice. “Well, ‘slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy.’ ‘Lithe’ is the same as ‘active.’ You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.”
Portmanteau was an anglicised French word for a suitcase that opened up into two separate bags, but joined together to be carried as one item. Humpty Dumpty continued to invent another, ‘chortle’, a combination of chuckle and snort, and ‘galumph’ a combination of gallop and triumph. As well as the phrase “frumious Bandersnatch”? In the preface to The Hunting of the Snark, Carroll wrote;
For instance, take the two words “fuming” and “furious.” Make up your mind that you will say both words, but leave it unsettled which you will first. Now open your mouth and speak. If your thoughts incline ever so little towards fuming,” you will say “fuming-furious;” if they turn, by even a hair’s breadth, towards “furious,” you will say “furious-fuming;” but if you have the rarest of gifts, a perfectly balanced mind, you will say “frumious.”
So next time you see discussions about the bromance of Stucky (two portmanteaus in one), or the likes of Olicity and Deckerstar, know that it is all the fault of one Lewis Carroll. And a big, fat, rambunctious egg.