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They may seem Zillille, but portmanteaus can be quite frabjous

'You see, it's like a portmanteau...'

Beware the Jabberwocky, the jaws that bite, the claws that catch. If we don’t stop this  portmanteau nonsense now, we will all end up sharing half-names. We will all be bitten, caught, and have to blush and stammer and make excuses to leave the room every time somebody asks us our name.

‘Um, we’re Zillille,’ the DA leader and Cape Town’s mayor might stammer. ‘Come and meet Malola.’ Not that Julius Malema and Ronald Lamola are likely to be comfortable at the same party as Zille and De Lille. Presents a bit of a problem for Zuma too. Zumalo? Zumeka? Zumtuli? Zumgema? I suppose it depends who he’s out with tonight.

Not wanting to be outgrabed by anyone, I would use all the mimsy I could muster to make a spexit (speedy exit) from any polarty (political party) where the centre of attention was a clashing of the DAncyl leadership, or for that matter a Zumwition (Zuma’s wives’ convention).

It’s all Alice’s fault, apparently, or maybe Humpty Dumpty’s. More correctly, we can blame Lewis Carroll, who in Through The Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There (150 years ago, in 1872) invented the notion of a portmanteau, which in recent years has sprung into fashionability with the hybridisation of the names of Hollywood stars.

Jedward. Or Grimward. Whatever.

A portmanteau, before it became a word, was a a suitcase, a linguistic slashing together of the French porter (to carry) and manteau (a cloak). It’s a word that you only found in dusty old mid-20th century novels, until recently it regained the use Lewis Carroll gave it in 1872 when, in the Alice in Wonderland story, Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice the meaning of ‘slithy’ in the nonsense verse, ‘Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe, all mimsy were the borogroves, and the mome raths outgrabe’.

Says good old Humpdump, ‘ ”Slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy’. ‘Lithe’ is the same as ‘active’ (pronounced like ‘strive’). You see, it’s like a portmanteau, there are two meanings packed up into one word.’

Similarly, mimsy means flimsy and miserable, frabjous means fair and fabulous, and chortle is a hybrid of chuckle and snort. And the last has become a proper word in its own right in our time.

Whoop whoop

Some portmanteaus are so commonplace we aren’t aware that they are portmanteaus. Meld is a mix of melt and weld, moped is motor and pedal, motel is motor and hotel, smog is smoke and fog. Others are less obvious. Squiggle is squirm and wiggle, vitamin is vital and amine.

But some newer word smashes are well worth using. Bankster is banker and gangster. Given the state of the global economy and the role banks have played in it, that’s a word that should stick around for a while. And I like frankenfood, from Frankenstein and food, even if I don’t agree with the anti-genetically modified food lobby.

I’ve always loved Franglais, both the word and what it means, whereas chillax (chill and relax) has a pretentious ring to it. As for a hasbian (a hasbeen lesbian, and I quote Wikipedia), that has to be the wittiest of the lot, not that one would find much use for the word.

Pickfair's heyday

All of this seems to have come to Hollywood in the 1920s when the attention of the entire world was on Pickfair, the home of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, which Life magazine in its heyday described as ‘a gathering place only slightly less important than the White House, and much more fun’, although this was of course decades before Bill and Hillary Clinton and Monica Lewinsky (among others). Theirs was the one that never quite stuck: Billary.

It was the press that dubbed the thespians’ new home Pickfair, starting a tradition revitalised several decades later when Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz named their studio Desilu, unless one counts the rather unkind nickname the media gave Cary Grant and heiress Barbara Woolworth in 1942 – Cash and Cary.

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks

But it’s all getting silly now. There’s nothing bootylicious about Bennifer (Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, or is it Jennifer Lopez… whatever) or Zanessa (Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens … it’s not amusing, it’s just twee).

Another Jennifer, Aniston, briefly hitched up with Vince Vaughn to become Vaughniston, then split up to get away from a particularly soporific portmanteau. I’m told (I hadn’t heard of either of them until this morning) that there was a reality show called The Hills in which one Spencer Pratt (there are times when we owe the Name Gods a debt) and one Heidi Montag became Speidi. Okay, not bad, that one. They’re best if they’re witty.

One of the most apt, I think, is the British singing brothers who didn’t win The X Factor, John and Edward Grimes (they came sixth), who became Jedward. They’re twins. They were outrageous, with the silliest hair until Lady Gaga sashayed along. It worked. But still, an opportunity lost. Grimward. Now that would have been perfect.

But it goes from the not quite sublime to the twee, to the ridiculous. I mean, Kimye. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. Kimye. Kandash, maybe, until the inevitable break-up and Kanye dashes off.

Brangelina. Well, it has a ring to it. As a bit of contemporary jabberwocky, it trips off the tongue quite roundly. And the alternative might have been JolPitt, but since Brad and Angelina are not a Long Street nightclub, let’s stick with Brangelina.

And Tomkat. A fluke of fate brought together two stars whose portmanteau made you think of Tom and Jerry, two cartoon characters always at each other’s throats. Tomkat made you think of Tom Cruise as the domineering, tail-swishing male and Katie Holmes as a mouse desperate to get away.

As for ons eie Hollywood sterretjie, Charlize Theron, I was wondering whether we couldn’t engineer a meeting with the Parlotones’ Kahn Morbee. CharMor. Nah. Sounds like a brand of Namibian braai coal.

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