In a recent post, I discussed how “unfriend” had returned to common use, thanks to Facebook. As I thought about that, I came upon the word “frenemy,” a great example of a portmanteau word. Lewis Carroll coined that term; linguists typically call them “blend nouns.” They are derived by combining portions of two or more separate words¹. The two words here, of course, are “friend” and “enemy.”
“Frenemy” feels very new to me—a product of the Mean Girls generation. I was surprised to find out that it dates back to 1953! The first documented instance listed in the OED is in the Nevada State Journal²–“Howz about calling the Russians our Frienemies?” While both spellings—”fren” and “frien”—are still in use, a quick Googlefight tells me that “fren” is about 13 times more common than its competitor.
Below you’ll find a list of portmanteau words gleaned from Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Oxford English Grammar, and Garner’s Modern American Usage. You’ll see that some of them have come to feel so at home in our language that you’ll barely recognize them as blends. Others still feel fresh or awkward. Can you identify the two words from which each is constructed?
¹Fowler’s Modern English Usage
²Combined in 1983 with the Reno Evening Gazette, now the Reno Gazette-Journal