web analytics

The Semantic Force of Univerbation

While several previous posts have mentioned portmanteau words (otherwise known as “blends”) and their latter-day ascendancy in the digital age, the recent prominence of the word “affluenza” (a blend of the words “affluence” and “influenza”) in connection with a criminal case is a particularly apposite example that deserves being singled out in its underscoring of the semantic power of a single word over that of two (or more) with the same general meaning.

Univerbation––the contraction, typically, of two words into one––is the more general way of characterizing blends, and its power evidently derives from the simple fact that something meaningful has been converted from a phrase into a term. In the linguistic world of naming objects and concepts, the number one is always more forceful than the number two, hence a term will always be regarded as preferable to a phrase in designating anything––particularly in the context of contemporary mass media and advertising, where concision and punch are highly prized.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

[ADDENDUM: As Ben Udell so astutely points out to me, “I’ve noticed univerbation happening with proper names of couples during the past decade or two, especially the following numerous times. It seems suggestive of a couple’s underlying dynamic unity, or something like that: Brangelina = Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie (movie stars), Sh’Amy = Sheldon Cooper & Amy Fowler (TV characters), Billary = Bill & Hillary Clinton.”]

Leave a Comment

220 feed subscribers
Categories
Archives
Readers with non-commercial queries and a personal e-mail address can click here:

Michael Shapiro: Sound and Meaning in Shakespeare's Sonnets
ePub $2.49 | Mobi $2.49

Michael Shapiro: The Speaking Self: Language Lore and English Usage

For free email notification of new blog posts, please enter your address in the field below, and then click Subscribe.



Michael Shapiro's Upcoming Appearances