Tuesday, June 23, 2015


post by Lynn

It must have been a cozy winter underground, because this spring our small acreage east of Cheyenne has been abuzz with rodent activity. Every time I step outside, scurrying bodies crisscross the grass and disappear into the nearest hole.

It’s been a point of discussion between my husband and me as to what these creatures are.

Some are tawny and round. Others are leaner with mottled stripes.

“Ground squirrels,” Mike said. “And gophers.”

“But which is which?” I asked. “And what about the round ones with stripes?”

Mike just shrugged.

So I have dubbed them all “squophers” and moved on.

Squopher is a combination of “squirrel” and “gopher” and besides allowing me to avoid conducting research to answer my rodent-identity question (lazy, I know), the coining of the term puts me in the ranks of those who mesh parts of two words to make a third one.

The third word is known as a “blended” word, or portmanteau, (from the French, bien sûr).

Some people are opposed to these newly-coined words, calling them “frankenwords.” I cry foul because I don’t think it’s fair to use a portmanteau to vilify a portmanteau! Do you?

At any rate, people have been mashing words together for a long time, whenever the two words are cumbersome, or don’t quite work in tandem. 

Some examples:

smog                  smoke + fog

brunch               breakfast + lunch

motorcade         motor + cavalcade

The arrival of the internet (itself a portmanteau of "international" + "network") has filled our vocabularies with blended words like blog (web + log), shareware (share + software) and pixel (picture + element).

NOTE: Don’t confuse portmanteau with compound words.

“Starfish” is a compound word, putting “star” and “fish” together, while “motel” is a portmanteau of “motor” and “hotel.”


Just ask Lewis Carroll, whose poem Jabberwocky is chock full of them. In fact, “chortle” (snort and chuckle) is a portmanteau from this poem that has entered our vocabulary and dictionaries.

I think it’s fun to try to figure out which two words Mr. Carroll combined on some of his portmanteau.
One, two! One, two! And through and through
      The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
      He went galumphing back.
-          Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll
Do you think “galumphing” is a joining of “galloping” and “harrumphing”? That’s my best guess.

Every day someone is portmanteau-ing and the English language is all the richer for it, in my opinion.

The Urban Dictionary has lots of blended words that have not yet entered traditional dictionaries, such as:

Cellfish (n): an individual who continues talking on their cell phone so as to be rude or inconsiderate of other people

Chairdrobe (n): piling clothes on a chair in place of a closet or dresser; see also floordrobe.

What fun!


So, I guess what I’m offering this fine June day is this morsel of advice: be playful with language.

Words, after all, are the clay we use to create our art. We should use them wisely, judiciously and seriously (and with a lot less adverbial excess than that!), to be sure.

But once in a while we should simply muck around with words.

Listen to Carl Jung, if you don't believe me, who said, “The creative mind plays with the object it loves.”

How about...

  • Having a character in your story use a portmanteau to describe her conflicted feelings about a lover?
  • Writing an op-ed piece that extols or deprecates the use of portmanteau?
  • Stealing a portmanteau from Jabberwocky to use in your writing just for the fun of seeing if anyone gets the allusion?
  • Penning a poem that makes liberal use of portmanteau derived from the combination of natural elements?

And when you're done with all that, maybe you could come over and do something about all these squophers in my yard. Please?



  1. When we use words we should be wise, judicious, and serious? Sorry Lynn, but I'm in the midst of rereading William Zinsser's On Writing Well and couldn't resist the Zinsser rewrite. But you are very correct in avoiding adverb excesses. Very nice post. I posted on FB that a "Squopher" is a gopher squished flat by a very large truck.

    Are you round animals prairie dogs still fat from eating well all winter. And the one with lines may be 13-lined ground squirrels. BTW, the prairie dog is a ground squirrel too.

  2. I didn't know that about the prairie dog! I'm actually kind of fond of the critters, whatever they are. My computer screen is right next to a garden-level window and sometimes baby squophers come right up and peek in at me. My husband, on the other hand, is not as fond of the rodents. They nibble on the roots of our trees and as anyone knows, growing trees on the prairie is hard enough without that!

  3. I think they are all cute. (Squofers, that is.) My dogs tend to think they're little prairie treats (praireats?), so I have to watch them when we go for walks. My nephew is the first person I know of who invented combination words, such as "chillax," but I have adopted them and use them far more often than is professional at work. So much fun!


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