The Grammarphobia Blog

Two-sided words

Q: During the Olympics, the father of a Canadian field hockey player said he’d accept any “credos” for being his son’s first coach. Obviously, he inadvertently melded “credit” and “kudos.” Is there a special term for this kind of conflation?

A: Yes, it’s called a portmanteau or portmanteau word (from the French-derived word for a large suitcase with two hinged compartments). Humpty Dumpty,
a k a Lewis Carroll, coined the term in Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871).

The first published reference in the Oxford English Dictionary is from a conversation in which Alice asks Humpty to explain “slithy” and other words in Carroll’s nonsense poem Jabberwocky. Here’s Humpty’s reply:

Well, “slithy” means “lithe and slimy.” “Lithe” is the same as “active.” You see it’s like a portmanteau – there are two meanings packed up into one word.

A few common portmanteau words that have made it into dictionaries are “brunch,” “motel,” and “smog.”

As for “credos,” it’s already in dictionaries, unblended, as the plural of “credo,” or creed. It comes from the Latin credo (I believe), the first word of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds.

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