Bad Portmanteau Examples

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

Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #362
spillates icktionary

My Words

My first attempts were horrendous. I came up with “apothetarry” and “abodaroma.”

apothetarry  (a play on "apothecary" and "tarry"): the act of lingering in front of the medicine cabinet pondering how the shelves get dirty when the cabinet is almost always closed. <Quit apothetarrying and wipe it down.> 

abodaroma  (a play on "abode" and "aroma"): the smell that infests an entire room or home. <The floor plan was great, but the abodaroma was a big turnoff.>

Expert Opinion

I turned to Chris Johnson, a linguist and naming and verbal branding expert better known as The Name Inspector, to try to figure out what made my portmanteaus so awful.

He pointed out that “a good blend is motivated by a significant overlap in sound between the two component words.” He said, “While it need not be based on identity or exact rhyme, it's important for the blend to preserve the natural usage, rhythm, and syllable emphasis of the words it's based on. When syllable emphasis is not preserved, the result is awkwordplay.”


Chris continued, “ ‘Awkwordplay’ is an aptonym--a word that illustrates what it describes. It's based on a combination of ‘awkward’ and ‘wordplay,’ but there's no way to pronounce it naturally while preserving the syllable emphasis of the component words—either you emphasize the first syllable, in which case ‘wordplay’ is pronounced incorrectly, or you emphasize the second, which means ‘awkward’ is pronounced incorrectly.”

“Spork” is a good blend because the natural usage and emphasis are preserved. It’s two nouns “spoon” and “fork” blending together with the right rhythm and syllable emphasis.

Chris thought “apothetarry” didn’t work because it closely resembled a noun (“apothecary”) but is being used as a verb. And I think it also fails because “apothecary” isn’t a very common word these days so it doesn’t immediately call anything to mind. It doesn’t come with its own baggage like “apocalypse” and “armageddon” do. He said “abodaroma” suffers from lack of overlap between the component words—it’s really a compound that smashes together “abode” and “aroma” masquerading as a portmanteau.

Next: See my better 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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