Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thor Day

I had just decided to write something every week that focused on aspects of our language when I came across a four-letter clue in a crossword puzzle. It asked for the origin of “Thursday.” The answer? Thor, the Norse god of thunder. In the Norse language this day is called Torsdag. Perfect, I thought, since I’d chosen Thursday as the day in which I’d write about words and books.

Which brings me to the word “blog.” Although it is often called a contraction of “web log,” the word “blog” is actually a portmanteau. That is a word formed by joining two others and combining their meanings. For example, “smog” is a blend of “smoke” and “fog;” “infomercial” combines “information” and “commercial,” and “brunch,” well you get the idea.

Until a few years ago, I thought a portmanteau was a valise. (Does anyone use that word anymore?) Whenever I came across the word in an old English novel, I pictured an English gentleman carrying his portmanteau aboard a London train. I’ve since learned that this definition still stands, but the newer definition of blending two words is more popular now.

You can see how a large leather suitcase, or a portmanteau, that opens into two hinged compartments evolved into the merging of two words to make one, a portmanteau.

I think it would be interesting to see how many other portmanteaus we can come up with.