Bad Portmanteau Examples

Clorox asked me to create new words for their Ick-tionary. I failed miserably!

Mignon Fogarty
Episode #362
spillates icktionary


A few months ago Clorox approached me about an interesting project: They were creating an ick-tionary—a wiki with fun, new words to describe icky messes—and they wanted me to contribute some words.

“Sure!” I thought.  Get paid to make up some words? Sounds like fun. Sounds pretty easy. Sign me up.

It turns out that it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be to come up with new words on demand. Something great might occasionally pop into your head when you don’t need it, but when you actually have to create great words on a deadline, good luck. Here’s the story of my failure.


The Clorox people mentioned that they were especially interested in portmanteaus. They didn’t actually call them that, they called them “new spins on existing words,” but by the examples, I knew they meant portmanteaus or blends such as “spork” and “smog.” Their examples were

Pup-cident  (a blend of “puppy” and “accident”): When the puppy has an accident on your new wood floor. 
Spillates (a blend of “spill” and “pilates”): A system of stretching exercises that tones muscles and improves flexibility through wiping up spills under tables, in car seats, and on countertops.

“Spendocalypse” Versus “Cuttageddon”

I’ve actually written a lot about portmanteaus, and although some people think they are cheap word tricks, I like them and think they can help marketers and newscasters draw attention to products and stories. I’ve explained how Lewis Carroll invented the word “portmanteau” and told you about broasted chicken and Brandalized books. Recently, I was interviewed by the radio show Marketplace about the political story of the day, the sequester, and how the term wasn’t resonating with audiences. I suggested they call it “cuttageddon” to jazz it up, but they didn’t take me up on the idea. “Cutageddon” just popped into my head, and I criticized the Atlantic Wire’s attempt, “spendocalypse,” as clunky. So clearly, I was due for a comeuppance. 

Next: See my embarrassing attempts.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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