AMF, Part IV

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Here's the latest ... might we call it a guerdon? (more nearly that than a meed, wouldn't you agree?) resulting from a treasure hunt through the Oxford English Dictionary that guest blogger Ammon Shea is conducting for the benefit of Word Fugitives readers:

James Weston, of Iowa City, writes:


"I am looking for a word to describe the somewhat nonsensical words created by adding a false suffix (e.g., '-gate' added to mean scandal, after Watergate, hence 'Troopergate'; '-aholic' added to mean dependency, after alcoholic, hence 'shopaholic')."

Ammon Shea replies:

"Depending on whether you like your terms modern or outdated, the word you are looking for is either blend or portmanteau (defined by the OED as 'A word formed by blending sounds from two or more distinct words and combining their meanings').  The latter word has been in English use for quite some while - its original meaning, from the 1550s, referred to a bag or case that split into two different sections.  It acquired the new meaning from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, in which Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice how slithy means lithe + slimy: 'You see it's like a portmanteau -- there are two meanings packed up into one word.'

"Portmanteaux seem to be words that get little respect (it's easy to make fun of such recent coinages as chocoholic, nannygate, and the like), but there are many examples, such as chortle (chuckle + snort) and smog (smoke + fog), that have become fairly accepted words.

"I should mention that some lexicographers and philologists might take exception to the above explanation - in the view of some specialists a word would be considered a portmanteau or a blend only if it puts together two partial bits of words; if it is made up of a complete word and a partial word it should be referred to as a compound.  Thus, chocoholic would still be considered a portmanteau, but nannygate (with its use of the full word nanny) would properly be a compound." 
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