Bad Portmanteau Examples

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

Mignon Fogarty
4-minute read
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.

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.


The best word I think I came up with was “Tuppermoat”—a name for the water that collects in the rim of Tupperware in the dishwasher—but the Clorox people didn’t want to touch it because of the potential trademark problem. I’m sure Chris would also point out that “Tuppermoat” isn’t a portmanteau because the words aren’t blended. I just substituted “moat” for “ware,” but I was getting desperate.


I submitted another five or six words, and finally the Clorox people settled on “cat-o-mat”—also not a portmanteau, but a word that describes the layer of cat hair that you can never seem to get off furniture. I don’t see it on the Ick-tionary site though, so maybe they’re going to add it later or maybe the just said they’d picked it to humor me and make me stop submitting new words.

The Ick-tionary

It’s a fun site with cute art, and they do have some great words in the final selections. I think my favorite is “board-‘oeuvres,” a word to describe the crumbs you find on your keyboard. 

Many thanks to Chris Johnson, The Name Inspector and author of the great book Microstyle for taking the time to weigh in on my failures.

In case it wasn’t clear enough at the beginning, here’s some formal legal language: I am being compensated by The Clorox® Company to share a new language about messes for the Clorox® Ick-tionary.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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