Word Blending: Linguistic Crossbreeds from Smog to Snowverload

Posted by Mark Peters

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If you want to make a word, there are plenty of ways to go.

You can save space by shortening a word ("whatever" becomes "whatevs") or making an acronym (TMI, snafu, milf). You can make it up from nothing at all, like my coinage of "Ghghghghoooey," which I am still waiting to catch on. Adding a prefix or suffix always works: Anyone up for a celebupocalypse? Speaking of the famous, grabbing a name and turning it into an eponym is always fun: recent examples include "Kanye interruptus" (self-explanatory), "drive like a Cullen" (to drive mega-fast, like the Cullens in Twilight), and "pull a Salahi" (for gate-crashing a la the White House-crashers).But the most prolific word-making method has to be the blend. Recent blends include "botax" (a union of botox and tax), "jeggings" (jean leggings), "vook" (a video book), "hopium" (hope plus opium, a substance non-fans of President Obama accuse his supporters of mainlining), and "mistakeholders" (discussed here on Language Log). As Ben Zimmer notes, the recent snowmageddon has brought a flurry of blends, including "snownami," "snOMG," and "snowverkill." Common, accepted words like "blog," "smog," and "motel" are blends too. For word-watchers, the blend is a treasury department that never stops coining.Some topics are more blend-y than others-like the dog world. Poodles are the most popular dog to crossbreed, leading to an endless list of word blends ("jackapoo," "schnoodle," etc.), most of which sound somewhere between cutesy-poo and hilarious-poo. The poo X phenomenon (pronounced "poo cross") has been spawning words since at least the sixties: "Labradoodle" dates from 1970, "peekapoo" from 1968, and "cockapoo" from 1960. Just flip open the classified ads of any newspaper, and you'll find a boatload of ads for malti-poos, yorkie-poos, shih-poos, and golden doodles.Other animals have also been given the blended treatment. "Zedonk" and "Zonkey" are blends for the child of a zebra and a donkey. A "pizzly" is the offspring of a polar bear and a grizzly. In the less ambulatory department is the "turducken," which has an insanely detailed and straight-faced OED definition that bears quoting: "A poultry dish consisting of a boned chicken inside a boned duck which is in turn placed inside a (partially) boned turkey, along with seasoned stuffing between the layers of meat and in the central cavity, the whole typically being cooked by roasting." If you like your birds boned, I guess that's the dish for you.Though we're not yet living in a world where terrifying, mutated human hybrids roam the earth-let's hope Obama gets that done in year two-people aren't spared the blend treatment either, especially when romance is involved. This blending tendency goes back to "Desilu" (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) and "Billary" (Bill and Hilary Clinton), and can be seen in the tabloid world's Brangelina, TomKat, and Bennifer. I think my favorite such name is "Bushdashian"-the pairing of Kim Kardashian and Reggie Bush. I don't know if their love is as immortal as the pyramids, but that is a super-fun word to say. Meanwhile, Lost-heads bicker about the whether they prefer "Jate" (Jack and Kate) or "Skate" (Sawyer and Kate). I'm still mourning "Sawliet" (Sawyer and Juliet), so let's just move on.Many blends wear their cooked-up-ness on their sleeve-they seem as natural as a mad scientist grafting a bunny's head onto the neck of a flamingo. Recent blends recorded on The Word Spy, such as "manufactroversy," "vegangelical," and "wheredunit" seems too awkwardly constructed to achieve widespread success. But over time, many blends do have what it takes to succeed, as shown by the success of "brunch," "middlebrow," "popsicle," "fanzine," and "triathelete."We can argue all day about whether turduckens, poodlehuahuas, and Bushdashians are unholy affronts to all that is good and holy and right-but there's no doubting the naturalness of the terms. Like a snowtastrophe itself, "snowtastrophe" the word is inevitable. It's the nature of words to blend.Illustration by Will Etling.Read More