Word Formation: Compounding, Clipping, and Blending
The word formation processes of compounding, clipping, and blending are important concepts when creating words. Also included for download are vocabulary lists of common English compounds, clipped words, and blends.
Compounding is the word formation process in which two or more lexemes combine into a single new word. Compound words may be written as one word or as two words joined with a hyphen. For example:
noun-noun compound: note + book → notebook
adjective-noun compound: blue + berry → blueberry
verb-noun compound: work + room → workroom
noun-verb compound: breast + feed → breastfeed
verb-verb compound: stir + fry → stir-fry
adjective-verb compound: high + light → highlight
verb-preposition compound: break + up → breakup
preposition-verb compound: out + run → outrun
adjective-adjective compound: bitter + sweet → bittersweet
preposition-preposition compound: in + to → into
Compounds may be compositional, meaning that the meaning of the new word is determined by combining the meanings of the parts, or noncompositional, meaning that the meaning of the new word cannot be determined by combining the meanings of the parts. For example, a blueberry is a berry that is blue. However, a breakup is not a relationship that was severed into pieces in an upward direction.
Compound nouns should not be confused with nouns modified by adjectives, verbs, and other nouns. For example, the adjective black of the noun phrase black bird is different from the adjective black of the compound noun blackbird in that black of black bird functions as a noun phrase modifier while the black of blackbird is an inseparable part of the noun: a black bird also refers to any bird that is black in color while a blackbird is a specific type of bird.
Clipping is the word formation process in which a word is reduced or shortened without changing the meaning of the word. Clipping differs from back-formation in that the new word retains the meaning of the original word. For example:
advertisement – ad
alligator – gator
examination – exam
gasoline – gas
gymnasium – gym
influenza – flu
laboratory – lab
mathematics – math
memorandum – memo
photograph – photo
public house – pub
raccoon – coon
reputation – rep
situation comedy – sitcom
telephone – phone
The four types of clipping are back clipping, fore-clipping, middle clipping, and complex clipping. Back clipping is removing the end of a word as in gas from gasoline. Fore-clipping is removing the beginning of a word as in gator from alligator. Middle clipping is retaining only the middle of a word as in flu from influenza. Complex clipping is removing multiple parts from multiple words as in sitcom from situation comedy.
Blending is the word formation process in which parts of two or more words combine to create a new word whose meaning is often a combination of the original words. For example:
advertisement + entertainment → advertainment
biographical + picture → biopic
breakfast + lunch → brunch
chuckle + snort → chortle
cybernetic + organism → cyborg
guess + estimate → guesstimate
hazardous + material → hazmat
motor + hotel → motel
prim + sissy → prissy
simultaneous + broadcast → simulcast
smoke + fog → smog
Spanish + English → Spanglish
spoon + fork → spork
telephone + marathon → telethon
web + seminar → webinar
Blended words are also referred to as portmanteaus.
Meaning of portmanteaus
“Portmanteau word” is used to describe a linguistic blend, namely “a word formed by blending sounds from two or more distinct words and combining their meanings.” This definition overlaps with the grammatical term contraction, but a distinction can be made between a portmanteau and a contraction by noting that contractions are formed from words that would otherwise appear together in sequence, such as do and not, whereas a portmanteau word is typically formed by combining two or more existing words that all relate to a singular concept which the portmanteau word is meant to describe, such as Spanish and English, into Spanglish.
Origin of portmanteaus
The word “portmanteau” was first used in this context by Lewis Carroll in the book Through the Looking-Glass (1871), in whichHumpty Dumpty explains to Alice the coinage of the unusual words in Jabberwocky, where “slithy” means “lithe and slimy” and “mimsy” is “flimsy and miserable”. Humpty Dumpty explains the practice of combining words in various ways by telling Alice,
‘You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.’
Humpty Dumpty’s theory, of two meanings packed into one word like a portmanteau, seems to me the right explanation for all. For instance, take the two words “fuming” and “furious”. Make up your mind that you will say both words, but leave it unsettled which you will say first … if you have the rarest of gifts, a perfectly balanced mind, you will say “frumious”.
The term “portmanteau” itself was converted by Carroll to describe the concept. The etymology “portmanteau” is derived from Frenchporter, to carry and manteau, cloak (from Old French mantel, from Latin mantellum). In then-contemporary English, a portmanteau was a suitcase. In modern French, a porte-manteau is a clothes valet, a coat-tree or similar article of furniture for hanging up jackets, hats, umbrellas and the like.