Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll have been hearing a lot of the word Brexit recently, but where did it come from?
A combination of the words Britain and Exit, Brexit was coined to describe Britain’s hypothetical departure from the European Union. This combination of the sounds and meanings of parts of words is known as a portmanteau, not be confused with compound words which combine whole words (for example: foot+path = footpath).
Brexit effectively simplifies a complex socio-political issue into a catchy soundbite and this helps to explain its widespread use in the media. Once it’s been introduced and accepted Brexit, and other portmanteaus like Grexit, Wikileaks and Murderapolis, are quick and easy ways to introduce the audience to topic without the need to provide a lengthy introduction. Although not a portmanteau itself, the word Watergate (in fact the name of a complex of buildings in Washington DC) has become so synonymous with scandal, especially political scandal, that the suffix -gate is now used to create fleetingly popular portmanteaus like Smeargate, Celebgate and the great Pastygate of 2012.
Portmanteaus are also commonplace in the showbiz world where the names of celebrity couples are merged together giving rise to headline-friendly monikers like Kimye and Brangelina (R.I.P Bennifer, forever in our hearts).
We would be wrong to think of these words as a modern invention though. There are many examples of portmanteaus that have become a part of our everyday vocabulary. These include infomercial (information + commercial), spork (spoon + fork), motel (motor + hotel), smog (smoke + fog), malware (malicious + software), brunch (…you see where this is going by now, don’t you?)
Are portmanteaus just tools for lazy journalism or do they reflect the constant evolution of language in response to our changing world? I, for one, am on board with any linguistic development that has finally helped me to define the pure rage I experience when it’s not quite lunchtime.
Team Hangry