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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May 15, 2012 - 11:43am
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