Talk about a total boregasm, but I’m going to head home, chillax with my labradoodle, and pop in that rom-com where Paul Rudd and Jason Segel have a total bromance. Don’t even stop me from wearing my fugly jorts.

The portmanteau — two words merged together to make a new word that combines the sounds and meanings of the original two — can be an effective linguistic device, but also a royal nuisance. Portmanteaus are especially common in modern food innovations, from cronuts to GoGurt. Before we got too hangry (that’s “hungry” + “angry”) about these newfangled words, we decided to check into the history of the portmanteau and figure out how hybrid creations have affected the food industry.

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Photo: YVRBCbro

What’s the Deal?

The word “portmanteau” dates back to the 1500s, but it had an entirely different meaning back then (It meant “suitcase”). The first mention of the portmanteau as an amalgamation of words traces back to Lewis Caroll’s 1871 classic, “Through the Looking-Glass.” In it, Alice asks Humpty Dumpty to explain the puzzling jargon of the poem, “Jabberwocky.” “Well,” replies Humpty, “‘slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy.’ ‘Lithe’ is the same as ‘active.’ You see, it’s a portmanteau — there are two meanings packed up into one word.” Turns out, Sir Dumpty was onto something.

In the two centuries since, we’ve been introduced to the spork, brunch, and linner (though I like to think of it as the “senior special”). When it comes to actual foods, there are a few probable reasons for baking up a portmanteau. The first, probably most obvious reason for merging two foods into a fancy new creation is to create marketing hype. Merging a croissant and a donut does not a nutrition powerhouse make, but slap a new label on it and you just might create a feeding frenzy. Most often, linguistic gymnastics are about generating buzz and consequently raking in the big bucks (though others will argue it’s all about the taste).

But sometimes wacky combinations are about more than the bottom line. There are several fruit portmanteaus that are healthy (by virtue of being a fruit) and created mostly for a new taste profile, greater reliability against weather and pests, and sometimes better nutrition — think the pluot, the grapple, and the nectaplum.

The Takeaway

While portmanteaus may get grammar traditionalists’ undies in a bunch, they can make perfect sense for food advertising, where language rules need not apply. The turducken? Literal genius. It would make no sense to say something along the lines of, “Hey, have you tried that thing where there’s a chicken stuffed into a duck all stuffed into a turkey?”

It’s unclear what will spark the imagination of the next successful food-manteauer (okay we totally made that one up) but whether or not you delve into a beefalo sandwich for dinner, it seems the portmanteau is here to stay — one crazy creation at a time.