I’ve been steering clear of the “On Language” column of late, because, really, who could replace William Safire in his persnickety-ness? But I’m kind of loving today’s column, by Bryan A. Garner, on “portmanteau” words, or neologisms, words that blend two common terms. Think webinar and brunch, blog (which, interestingly, my e-mail spellcheck persists in not recognising), palimony.
Garner takes on the task of trying to figure out why some mash-ups take — smog — and some don’t — galumph. It’s some sort of intersection between utility and slang, he seems to suggest, with the latter less fixed. So, a decade or two in the future, will we be tweeting or punctuating our messages with emoticons?
Really, though, who could not love a writer who employs the phrase “onomatopoeically evocative” to explain why chortle (invented by Lewis Carroll in Jabberwocky, who knew?) has endured? “Think of a portly chum,” he urges. I can’t but.