10 Words You Might Not Know Are Portmanteaux

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Motel, brunch, and sitcom are obvious. But these portmanteaux are undercover.

1. Apart from giving us the word portmanteau to describe these things, you can also thank Lewis Carroll for chortle, a combination of snort and chuckle, first used in 1871's Through the Looking-Glass

2. Bodacious can be traced back to the bold and audacious 1830s. But many nostalgic 30-somethings trace it back to the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

3. The most famous type of hook and loop fastener, Velcro (which is a registered trademark) is a combination of velours and croché. Literally hooked velvet.

4. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, meld likely came from a combination of melt and weld in the 1930s. Vulcan mind-melding came along some 30 years later.

5. Put this in your hard drive. The concept of the bit, or binary digit, has been around since the late 1940s.

6. In 1969, pixel, a blend of pictures—or rather, the abbreviation pix—and element, only referred to televised images.

7. Sometimes company names are portmanteaux. While some, like Groupon, are obvious, Sony is a combination of the Latin sonus (sonic) and sonny. It was chosen because it’s simple and pronounceable in any language.

8. In 1975, the term endorphin was created from the French word endogène and morphine to describe those opiate-like peptides that kick in just when you're about to give up jogging altogether.

9. Polish biochemist (and amazing unused band name) Casimir Funk combined the Latin word for life, vita, and amine to coin vitamine in 1912.  When it became apparent that these substances weren’t actually amines, the e came off.

10. Sometimes a portmanteau's a place you can go. The east African states Tanganyika and Zanzibar became Tanzania in 1964.

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January 21, 2015 - 11:00am
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