My new column for the Visual Thesaurus, “When Words Collide,” looks at portmanteau words and names: their history (thank you, Lewis Carroll!), how they’re constructed, and why some succeed and others fail.
“Glotion”: a recent portmanteau that falls short of the ideal.
Full access to the column is restricted to subscribers. Here’s an excerpt:
The most successful portmanteaus flow readily off the tongue, overlap both semantically and phonetically, and fill a linguistic or cultural gap. Take brunch, which students at Oxford University invented in the 1890s to describe a combination of breakfast and lunch. ("An excellent portmanteau word," Punch magazine declared in its August 1, 1896, issue.) Almost completely forgotten is a related word coined by those same students: blunch, a meal eaten nearer to the lunch hour than brunch. It turned out that once you learned brunch, your appetite for new midday-meal words was sated.
Smog, coined in 1905, is another long-lived example: It's short, easy to pronounce, and handy for describing a modern atmospheric phenomenon. Affluenza – the name of a condition that supposedly afflicts wealthy people, robbing them of personal responsibility – is so appealing a word that it's been coined repeatedly (from affluence and influenza), in 1903, 1954, and 1979. Vitamin – originally spelled vitamine – was created in 1912 from vital and mineral when scientists needed a name for "certain preventive substances" that could fend off diseases like pellagra. Spam, which began life in 1937 as a trademark portmanteau of spiced and ham, was adopted by the computer community to describe a flood of messages. (The inspiration came from "Spam," a 1970 sketch by the Monty Python comedy troupe, in which "Spam" was repeated multiple times.) So successful was spam that it begat another portmanteau, spamdex, a blend of spam and index.
The press release arrived in inboxes Thursday afternoon, and within minutes it seemed everyone in media or branding was scoffing at it.
Tribune Publishing Co. (NYSE:TPUB) today announced that the Company will change its name to tronc, Inc., a content curation and monetization company focused on creating and distributing premium, verified content across all channels. tronc, or tribune online content, captures the essence of the Company’s mission. tronc pools the Company’s leading media brands and leverages innovative technology to deliver personalized and interactive experiences to its 60 million monthly users. The name change will become effective on June 20, 2016.
Tribune Publishing Co., based in Chicago, owns some of the oldest and biggest surviving newspapers in the United States, including the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. The company, like the rest of the newspaper industry, has been struggling for years.
And now it faces yet another challenge: a storm of ridicule from journalists, brand consultants, and critical civilians.
Of course, negative response to a rebrand is to be expected. Indeed, most renaming announcements are met with jeers. (Everyone’s a critic.) For my part, I keep theZajonc effect in mind: the tendency of people, after repeated exposure to something they initially disliked, to like the thing more over time. (Zajonc does not rhyme with “tronc”; it rhymes with “science.”)
But, ladies and gentlemen, I am fairly confident that years of exposure will not make me fall in love, or even in like, with tronc. It’s a word that sounds silly at best, ugly at worst, a rhyming cousin of honk, zonk, bonk, and honky-tonk. The lack of capitalization is ridiculous and impractical. (How will, say, the Chicago Tribune, a tronc property, treat the name at the beginning of a sentence?) And it’s a bad portmanteau, a Frankenname soldered together from a heartless DisruptionSpeak buzzword, “online content” (not to mention “premium, verified content”). The story that’s meant to justify it is blistered with other soulless buzzwords: “leverages,” “innovative,” “personalized,” “interactive experiences.”
Breakfastarian: “A person who recognizes the superiority of breakfast over other meals. A person who eats only breakfast foods” (Urban Dictionary, July 20, 2013). A blend of breakfast with the Latinate suffix -arian, denoting “association with a place or thing or idea.” Compare vegetarian, fruitarian, and breatharian (and contrast omnivore, locavore, and carnivore, in which -vore comes from a Latin root meaning “to devour.”)
Crowler: A 32-ounce or 750-milliliter aluminum can filled to a customer’s order with beer or cider at a brewery. Also the name of the machine used for making the cans. A blend of can and growler (a 64-ounce vessel, traditionally made of glass, for take-home beer).
Attactics: Aggressive tactics. A portmanteau of attack and tactics; in some cases a probable eggcorn.
In a November 13, 2015, post on ADS-L, the listserv of the American Dialect Society, slang expert Jonathan E. Lighter noted that “CNN speaks of Donald Trump’s ‘attactics’ against Ben Carson” in the Republican presidential campaign. I hadn’t heard the usage, so I emailed Lighter for specifics. The source, he told me, was Christopher Cuomo, co-achor of the “New Day” morning show. Cuomo, it turns out, has been staging a one-man campaign to make attactics happen on the air and on Twitter.
Turketta: An invented word for “turkey prepared porchetta style.” Sometimes spelled turchetta. Porchetta – the word is the feminine diminutive of porco (pig) – is a stuffed and rolled roast of suckling pig; the dish is associated with central Italy and Sardinia.