You hear and use them every day, perhaps without realizing why they’re special. I’m referring to what linguists call blends: new words created via the marriage of two other words.

Familiar words of this type include the computer term bit (binary + digit), brunch (breakfast + lunch), smog (smoke + fog), and Spam – the edible kind (spiced + ham).

They’ve also been called telescope words and centaur words. Lewis Carroll called them “portmanteau words.” That reference is now rather obscure, but back in the day, a portmanteau was a traveling bag that opened into two compartments. Thus, as Carroll defined the term in Through the Looking-Glass: “two meanings packed up into one word.” And, by the way, several of Carroll’s own blended-word coinages are still used, most notably chortle (chuckle + snort).

Decades ago, Time magazine and the gossip columnist Walter Winchell were known for devising new blends, some of which survived while others faded away. Among them: cinemactress, frauditor, genethics, guesstimate, and infanticipating.

If you keep your eyes and ears open, you’ll discover that the list of blend words is surprisingly long: advertorial, camcorder, Chunnel, glasphalt, infomercial, Jazzercise, minicam, pixel, and sitcom, for example. Because new things are constantly being created, and they all need names, the roster will surely continue to grow.

Here are a few more, the origins of which may not be immediately apparent:

  • guacamole: from the Aztec ahuacamolli – a conflation of ahucatl (avocado) + molli (sauce or paste).
  • happenstance: from happen + circumstance.
  • Tanzania: from the names of two countries, Tanganyika and Zanzibar, that merged in 1964.
  • Velcro: from the French velours (velvet) + croche (hooked). The ubiquitous fastener was invented in Switzerland.
[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book recently published by AWAI that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]

Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant for more than 30 years. He may be best known for his headline “Speak Spanish [French, German, etc.] Like a Diplomat!” This familiar series of ads sold spectacular numbers of recorded foreign language lessons for Audio-Forum, generating revenues that total in the tens of millions of dollars. In the process, the ad achieved the status of an industry classic. Don’s work is mentioned in three major college advertising textbooks, and examples of his promotions are cited in the books Million Dollar Mailings (1992) and World's Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters (1996). In a column in Advertising Age, his name was included in a short list of direct-marketing “superstars.” He has a parallel career as a writer on language and wordplay. His celebration of spoonerisms, Cruel and Unusual Puns (Dell, 1991), received rave reviews and quickly went into a second printing. His second book was Acronymania (Dell, 1993). Recently, Don retired from full-time copywriting in order to focus on other interests, including his passion for “recreational linguistics.” He is at work on a new book in that genre. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Word Ways and writes “The Language Perfectionist,” a weekly column on grammar and usage, for Early to Rise. Don is author of The Versatile Freelancer,an e-book from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI) that shows copywriters – and almost anyone – how to diversify their careers into consulting, training, critiquing, and speaking.