In mid-December I read a blog post at Word Nerdery called “My Portmanteau is Packed; I’m Ready to Go“. I always enjoy reading Ann Whiting’s posts. To me it is like finding out your favorite author has written another chapter! I get comfortable and ready to savor what I’m about to read because I know it will sometimes tickle me, sometimes stump me, but always fascinate me!
Portmanteau words are something I’ve been intending to have my students explore, so I was especially interested in this post. My heart was saddened however, when I read what the inspiration was for this look into portmanteau words. Simply put, the word was smog. And it seems there was a lot of it in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Land being cleared for farming and palm oil plantations was leaving the air filled with noxious pollution. Without minimizing the seriousness of the situation she was surrounded by, Ann invited her readers to take a closer look at the word <smog>.
After finishing the post (and I encourage you to visit her blog and do the same), I was excited to see what my students would do with this topic. Over the next few days, as students came to me ready for a new orthographic investigation, I asked them to find out what they could about portmanteau words. First they were to find out what they were. Second they were to make a list of some of their favorites. It didn’t take long before they were huddled around computers, sharing their discoveries and often laughing at the strange images being brought to mind. Most were especially delighted by the imaginative blends that involved animals.
What fun! We went to the Gallery at Real Spelling and viewed the film on Blend Words (Portmanteau). We found out that there were three different ways to create a portmanteau. They can be juxtapositional, overlapping, or nested. We started to recognize some of those types in the examples we found.
Since we knew that Lewis Carroll was the one who started calling blend words “portmanteau words”, we decided to look at his famous poem to see which portmanteau words we could spot. What a treat! “Callooh! Callay!” Everyone looked a copy of the poem over on their own. Then I shared a youtube video I had found in which a very talented 10 year old recites this famous poem.
We talked a bit about how his recitation brought the poem (which seemed to be full of strange words that nobody knew) to life! Suddenly there was a story here! It still wasn’t perfectly clear, but the gist of it was! Then we compared that to Johnny Depp’s partial sharing of the poem.
The consensus was that this version was a bit creepier, yet we felt the pull of wanting to hear more.
We found the following portmanteau words:
slithy, which is a combination of slimy and lithe mimsy, which is a combination of miserable and flimsy
galumphing, which is a combination of gallop and triumphing
chortle, which is a combination of chuckle and snort
We played with the words of “The Jabberwocky” for days. We analyzed the grammar in some of the sentences. Here is a sample of that. I realized as I watched it back that the apostrophe in (‘Twas) was put in the wrong place. If it represents the missing letter, it needs to be before the letter <T>. The other thing I found out was Lewis Carroll may have intended the word ‘brillig’ to mean a certain time of day. If that is true, then it would be a noun and not an adjective. But it would still be a subject complement.
The students surprised themselves by being able to identify some grammatical structure to this sentence, which at first had only felt full of strange foreign words. Of course, we could make grammatical sense of this sentence because in English, it is the order of the words that helps signal relationships between the words in the sentence. We know that we expect to find adjectives before nouns. We know that we expect to find articles before nouns. We know the predictable parts of speech to look for following a preposition. And here is where I neatly planted a seed. Latin wasn’t like that. Word order was not that important. The Romans knew whether a word was a subject or an object by its suffix, and not by whether it was in front of or behind the predicate.
We finish with this recitation of The Jabberwocky. We thank Lewis Carroll, Word Nerdery and Real Spelling because these days we quote the Jabberwocky when it suits us, and we blurt out portmanteaus that we are inventing on the spot! We are changed!