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Terri Dann

12 Really Forced Portmanteaux That Didn't Catch On

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Terri Dann

There are times when one big word can more effectively do the job of two words. These are not those times.

1. Balloonatic (balloon + lunatic)

A person who is balloon-mad; a balloonist, spec. (Mil. slang) a member of a balloon corps or balloon squadron in the First World War (1914–18).

When the first manned hot air balloon took flight in France in 1783, it ushered in an age of utter balloonacy. While so-called “observation” balloons were used to monitor opponents’ movements as far back as the French Revolutionary Wars of the late eighteenth century, World War I gave the term “balloonatic” a fresh shade of meaning; turns out giant tethered balls of hydrogen are obvious targets for enemy fighter planes (armed with incendiary bullets, no less). To slightly increase balloonatics’ survival odds in the event of a catastrophe, every man on board was given a parachute and instructions to abandon ship (or sky) at the first sign of trouble.

2. Scandiknavery (Scandinavian + Knavery)

Deceit or trickery by Scandinavians.

A nonce-word created by James Joyce for use in a poem in his novel Finnegan’s Wake. This is one of the many Scandinavian references peppered throughout the book, in a nod to Dublin's heritage as an early Viking settlement. To experience modern-day Scandiknavery firsthand, attempt to furnish a home for a respectable adult using only furniture you have procured from an IKEA.

3. Blunch (breakfast + lunch)

A mid-morning combination meal closer to lunch.

In its earlier years, the word "brunch" didn't have a monopoly on describing midmorning meals. In 1896, the English magazine Punch warned readers, "The combination-meal, when nearer to luncheon, is 'blunch.' Please don't forget this."

4. Psychedelicatessen (psychedelic + delicatessen)

A shop selling psychedelic articles. Now chiefly in extended use with reference to music and art.

The earliest attestation of this word comes from a 1966 issue of the Los Angeles Times, where it was employed to describe a place on the Sunset Strip at which a publicist “sat sipping a beer […] and mused about the fate of the Beatles in America.” Obviously, psychedelicatessens have not changed at all since the mid-sixties.

5. prostisciutto (prostitute + prosciutto)

A female prostitute regarded metaphorically as an item on a menu.

A term coined by Samuel Beckett in his first published poem, "Whoroscope," which drew inspiration from the biography of philosopher René Descartes. Possibly because “ho-ham” sounded too low-class.

6. alcoholiday (alcohol + holiday)

Leisure time spent drinking.

This word appeared in a 1913 New York Times story titled "New Arrivals in Portmanteau Land." Other new arrivals that year: "crilk" (cream + milk), "insinuendo" (insinuation + innuendo), and "bungaloafer" (bungalow + loafer).

7. mirthquake (mirth + earthquake)

An extremely funny play, film, or other entertainment.

This term first appeared in an advertisement for a play called Climbing Roses, billed as “A Farcical Mirthquake in Three Acts.” Paradoxically, the use of “mirthquake” in the ad’s description pretty much guarantees the play was anything but.

8. affluenza (affluence + influenza)

A psychological malaise supposedly affecting (esp. young) wealthy people, symptoms of which include a lack of motivation, feelings of guilt, and a sense of isolation.

The most insufferable of afflictions, many attempt to cure themselves of affluenza by embarking on a strict (lax) regimen of “Eat, Pray, Love”-ing.

9. womoonless (womanless + moonless)

Both womanless and moonless.

Another nonce-word coined by James Joyce, this one for his novel Ulysses. Womoonless is used to describe a very specific (and, likely, dark and dull) kind of marsh.

10. rhubarbative (rebarbative + rhubarb

Bad-tempered, fractious, disagreeable.

Though, in actuality, this blend is a pun that combines the repellant meaning of “rebarbative” with the tart taste of “rhubarb” (incidentally, historically used as a purgative to release ill humors from the body), it’s unlikely anyone would call you out if you used it to describe a delicious pie.

11. loco-restive (locomotive + restive)

Inclined to remain in one place.

First used in 1796, this word likely passed into obscurity because it’s much harder to build a kicking instructional dance-track around a sedentary concept.

12. saccharhinoceros (saccharine + rhinoceros)

A lumbering person with an excessively effusive or affectedly sentimental manner.

A stinging description of Santa Claus you might lob around if you didn’t feel like receiving any presents this year.
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Should we bring any of these back? Leave your other favorite portmanteaux — real or imagined — in the comments.

Except for #3 and #6, all definitions courtesy of the Oxford English Dictionary.

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U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
5 Things You Didn't Know About Sally Ride
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U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are five things you might not know about the astronaut, who passed away five years ago today—on July 23, 2012—at the age of 61.


When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.


When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”


After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"


Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.


A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

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AFP/Getty Images
5 Surprising Facts About the Battle of Dunkirk
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AFP/Getty Images

With the release of Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed Dunkirk, the world’s attention is once again focused on the historic events recounted in the film, when a makeshift fleet of British fishing boats, pleasure yachts, and cargo ships helped save 185,000 British soldiers and 130,000 French soldiers from death or capture by German invaders during the Fall of France in May and June 1940. Here are five surprising facts about those heroic days.


By Weper Hermann, 13 German Mobile Assault Unit - Imperial War Museums, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The main reason France collapsed so quickly in 1940 was the element of surprise enjoyed by its German attackers, thanks to General Erich von Manstein, who proposed an invasion route that was widely believed to be impossible. In Manstein’s plan, the main German column of tanks and motorized infantry would force their way through the forests of Ardennes in southeast Belgium and Luxembourg—a thick, hilly woodland which was supposed to be difficult terrain for tanks, requiring at least five days to cross, according to conventional wisdom based on the experience of the First World War. The French and British assumed that little had changed since the previous conflict, but thanks to field studies and updated maps, Manstein and his colleague General Heinz Guderian realized that a new network of narrow, paved roads would allow just enough room for tanks and trucks to squeeze through. As a result the Germans passed through Ardennes into northern France in just two-and-a-half days, threatening to cut off hundreds of thousands of Allied troops, with only one escape route: the sea.


Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The German invasion of France began on May 10, 1940, the same day Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. By May 14, when he paid his first official visit to Britain’s ally, Holland had capitulated and Paris was preparing for evacuation. But an even worse surprise was in store. In one of the most famous passages of military history, Churchill recounted the moment he learned that the French didn’t have any troops in reserve:

"I then asked ‘Where is the strategic reserve?’ and, breaking into French … ‘Ou est la mass de manoeuvre?’ General Gamelin turned to me and, with a shake of the head and a shrug, replied. ‘Aucune.’ [There is none] … I was dumbfounded. What were we to think of the Great French Army and its highest chief? It had never occurred to me than any commanders … would have left themselves unprovided with a mass of manoeuvre … This was one of the greatest surprises I have had in my life.”


On May 24, 1940, the Allied troops on the French and Belgian coast had been totally surrounded by powerful German tank columns, rendering them essentially defenseless against the impending German onslaught. And then came a brief reprieve, as the attackers suddenly stopped for 48 hours, allowing the British to dig in and create a defensive perimeter, setting the stage for the evacuation.

For reasons that still aren’t clear, Hitler—over the protests of his own generals and to the bafflement of historians—had ordered Guderian to halt for two days to rest and resupply. It’s true the German troops were worn out after two weeks of fighting, and Hitler may have worried about a repeat of 1914, when exhausted German troops were forced to withdraw at the Marne. He may also have been swayed by Hermann Göring, chief of the German Luftwaffe, who boasted that air power alone could destroy the helpless Allied forces at Dunkirk. Less likely is the speculation that Hitler purposefully “let the Allies go” to appear magnanimous or merciful as a prelude to peace negotiations (which was not really in keeping with his character). In the end we will probably never know why Hitler choked.


Among many examples of Germany’s evil genius for psychological warfare, one of the most famous was the decision to equip its Ju 87 dive bombers with air-powered sirens that emitted a shrieking, unearthly wail as the plane went into attack. The siren, known as the “Jericho Trumpet,” was intended to spread terror among enemy troops and civilians on the ground—and it worked. To this day the Jericho Trumpet is one of the most recognizable, and terrifying, sounds of war. It was certainly one of the lasting impressions of the Dunkirk evacuation for ordinary troops caught beneath the German bombs. Lieutenant Elliman, a British gunner who was waiting to be evacuated on Malo-les-Bains beach, later recalled the Stukas “diving, zooming, screeching, and wheeling over our heads like a flock of huge infernal seagulls.”


By Saidman (Mr), War Office official photographer — Photograph H 1636 from the Imperial War Museums, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Although Churchill and other Brits were quick to criticize the failure of France’s generals during the Fall of France, many ordinary French soldiers and officers fought bravely and honorably—and one hopeless “last stand” in particular probably helped enable the successful evacuation of Dunkirk.

As British and French troops withdrew to Dunkirk, 40 miles to the southeast French troops in two corps of the French First Army staged a ferocious defense against seven German divisions from May 28 to May 31, 1940, refusing to surrender and mounting several attempts to break out despite being heavily outnumbered (110,000 to 40,000). The valiant French effort, led by General Jean-Baptiste Molinié, helped tie up three German tank divisions under Erwin Rommel, enabling the British Expeditionary Force and the remaining troops of the French First Army to retreat and dig in at Dunkirk, ultimately saving another 100,000 Allied troops.


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