Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Let’s talk about crapmanteaux

“Mumpreneur is in the dictionary!” proclaims the interesting if repetitive Lilach Bullock, citing Collins Dictionary Online. That’s what bothers me about some of these online dictionaries. Their attitude seems to be, if people use a word, then it’s a word. In which case, what’s the dictionary for? I know the language has to keep evolving, but there’s little point having a gatekeeper if he simply waves everyone through while mumbling, “Yeah, whatevs.”

“I’m a proud entrepreneur and love the term mumpreneur,” trills Bullock, who has fifty followers for every one I’ve got. My instinct is simply to say, “Yuck, yuck, yuckety-yuck, hate it hate it hate it.” Whatever more articulate argument I might propound later, that visceral, grown-man-acting-like-a-three-year-old emotion underpins whatever I am about to say. Mumpreneur is self-evidently horrid and anyone using it should be shunned for that reason alone. But what makes it so, and what makes a good portmanteau?

Like so much else, the term was coined by Lewis Carroll to describe his invention of words in the poem Jabberwocky, whereby gallop and triumph became galumph and chuckle and snort became chortle. Other early examples include smog (a mixture of smoke and fog) and brunch (breakfast and lunch).

Did you put 'mumpreneur' in the dictionary?
Yet now it seems to have got out of hand. After the tongue-in-cheek slacktivism and imagineering came and went, we’ve suddenly found ourselves in a world where every miserably irrelevant ‘new’ concept has to have its own special word, if only to make hashtags on Twitter. Justin Bieber is beleaguered by ‘beleibers’, which seems fair enough, implying as it does wide-eyed, unquestioning, moronic devotion while carrying more than a hint of babbling. But why are Ed Sheeran’s fans called Sheeranators? They can’t be trying to link him with Arnold Schwarzenegger, surely? He’s a ginger, not a ninja.

Since 2009, my feminist friends have been using their own put-down of patronising men, as in:
“Oh but wait, feminists can’t be angry at anything Captain Mansplain hasn’t personally approved of.” @TheNatFantastic
Mansplain is not exactly graceful, but it isn’t hard to work it out. If you’re not sure, ask Nancy Friedman, who will gynsplain (or maybe clarifem) on her blog. The reason there isn’t a female alternative isn’t because women are never disparaging or matronising towards men; it’s because the alternatives are too ugly to survive outside the business environment, where nebulous ugliness is highly prized.

This reaches its nadir with Grexit, where the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph are seriously trying to pretend that there is a word for the Greeks abandoning the euro, just because some oaf at Citigroup decided to try and be clever. 

At least, I thought it was a nadir till I saw this on a design agency’s home page: 
“Creativity in designing makes your clients happy. Designing is our role in playing [no, I can’t work out what that means either]. So e-Ramo calls it Cresigning.”
Part of the appeal of the portmanteau is doing something clever and amusing. ‘Slacktivist’ (someone who campaigns without straying from their computer keyboard) works because the syllables overlap and so retain the essence of both words. ‘Act’ and ‘slack’ almost rhyme while having opposite meanings, attracting and repelling in equal measure and creating a humorous balance. Ideally, a good portmanteau should retain the integrity of the original words and perhaps a hint of something else. Above all, it shouldn’t take itself too seriously.

It’s clear that mumpreneur and the equally loathsome webinar fail on both counts. There has to be some logical link between the component parts. Try explaining it to someone: 
“Yeah, look, it’s really clever: y’see what I did there? I took entrepreneur and replaced the ‘entre-’ with ‘mum’. Then I took ‘seminar’ and replaced ‘sem’ with ‘web’. How genius is that?” 
That’s the same sort of genius that makes a cheese sandwich but replaces the cheese with a Ford Mondeo.

Look, you don’t have to make a single word for a new concept. Fill a milk bottle with fuel and stuff a rag in the neck and you’ve got a petrol bomb or a Molotov cocktail (don’t be alarmed: I always recycle my milk bottles responsibly and anyway I don’t know where e-Ramo or Collins Dictionary have their offices). It’s not a petromb or a mocktail, although the latter would work for alcohol-free drinks in funny glasses with fruit. I can’t think of a word that combines the concept of mother and entrepreneur, but we don’t need to devise a single word to cover everything we do. My urge to find an outlet for my armchair magalomania means I juggle the roles of editor, actor, writer and father. I tried to come up with a portmanteau for that, but it was so ugly that I felt compelled to delete it.

Since there aren’t enough decent portmanteaux around, I’ll suggest a few more (or there’s a list here). Feel free to come up with your own:

Shortmanteau: a single-syllable portmanteau, such as smog or brunch
Crapmanteau: mompreneur, webinar, etc
Momnivore: a mother who copes with stress by comfort eating
Ad choc: the eating of confectionery on impulse
Jazzturbation: aimless, self-indulgent music
Footmauler: any English footballer
Gluicide: an overdose for someone who can’t afford proper drugs
Quartomaton: someone with at least 25% of their body replaced by robotic parts
Piesexual: someone attracted to fuller-figured men or women
Pisexual: someone with slightly more than three partners
Hobknob: an obscene cooking injury
Pornucopia: the internet
Prepostrophe: a preposterously misplaced apostrophe
Fauxhito: at 2am, someone decides to make cocktails. But they don't have all the ingredients.

Update: to save myself editing this post, I've created an evolving list called New portmanteaux for smug writers. Feel free to offer fresh suggestions.

Moral: There aren’t any rules for creating portmanteaux, other than the aesthetic. But that should be compelling enough.

5 comments:

  1. Excellent. I'm adopting crapmanteau, jazzturbation and ad choc.

    The world of wanky-ways-of-talking-about-food is heaving with these things. Deskfast: breakfast at your desk. Gastrosexual: disappointingly, just a man who likes to cook. Flexitarian: an inconstant vegetarian.

    Here's some more: http://rantingsubs.com/2010/04/29/moobs-manbags-and-masstige/

    PS typo alert: second par, third line, four stray ys seems to have crept in where there should be fs.

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  2. For some reason, your RSS feed isn't converting newlines to spaces. I mention it because to anyone using a feed reader, this has resulted in about forty opaque and pointless new portmanteaus appearing in this article.

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    1. That sounds worryingly technical. I'll see what I can do, but don't hold your breath. If the next post comes out wrong (or right), let me know.

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  3. I agree with your post; there are a lot of wretched blends that pass as portmanteau words. My theory is that their crassness comes from the obviousness with which their sounds (and meanings) are combined. Give me a clever Carrollian portmanteau any day!

    There is a Tumblr blog devoted to bad portmanteaus:
    http://werdge.tumblr.com

    where "werdge" = "word" + "merge".

    Some may be satirical, but some are authentic. It's hard to tell the difference.

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