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Seeing double in the IT dictionary

Seeing double in the IT dictionary

Some words are created by cramming two words together to make another that combines the sense of each. For instance, ‘spork’ comes from spoon and fork. Or breakfast and lunch becomes ‘brunch.’

They’re called portmanteau. The term was coined by Lewis Carroll in his book Through the Looking Glass. He has Humpty Dumpty say: “Well, slithy means lithe and slimy ... You see it’s like a portmanteau – there are two meanings packed up into one word.”

So, as well as being a large leather suitcase that opens into two hinged compartments, portmanteau is commonly used to describe these combo words. You’ll be familiar with many – situation and comedy make sitcom, advertisement and editorial make advertorial, smoke and fog make smog, marionette and puppet make … yep, of course, muppet, and so on.

Some things I thought were original words are, in fact, portmanteau words. Hassle is a combination of haggle and tussle. Flounder is flounce and blunder. Napalm is naphthalene and palmitate. Cellophane is cellulose and diaphane. A fortnight is a combo of fourteen and nights. Goodbye is a triple of God and be (with) ‘ye’. Did you know Viagra is one? Have a guess of the two words. First is ‘virile’, second is … Niagara … as in the falls of the same name I suppose. Combined sense and meaning … hmmm.

If you look, you’ll soon see that the English language is littered with them, and nowhere more so that in the IT realm. Here we’ve really gone to town. Almost every second term is a P word. Companies like them. Take Microsoft (micro and software), Intel (integrated and electronics) and Verizon (which is horizon preceded by verily or veritas, from the Latin ‘veritas’, meaning truth … depending on your reference source of choice).

Verily? As for the everyday stuff, what isn’t a portmanteau? There’s blog (web log) and bit (binary digit): email (electronic mail) and emoticon (emotion and icon); internet (international network) and modem (modulator and demodulator); freeware (free software) and pixel (picture/pix element); wifi (wireless fidelity) and webinar (web seminar).

If you don’t believe me, you can look them all up in Wikipedia, which, naturally, is a portmanteau made from wiki and encyclopedia.

It seems that many new words come into our language via the portmanteau express. One that caught my eye recently was Tweetaholics – for those people who are addicted to Twitter.

Now that I’ve got the hang of it, I thought I’d try to come up with a few of my own. So here are a few I prepared earlier. How about ‘emailment’, combining email and ailment, for when your email stuffs up. Or ‘cellophone’ for a really cheap and nasty mobile handset? Can I suggest ‘Skypedition’ for videoconferencing into the unknown. And Googoligarchy for the company that’s seemingly ruling the world. And if none of those tickle your fancy, I’ll leave you with blibel, defamation in the blogsphere.


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