• Monthly Archives: October 2015

Of Grexit, Brexit, and Other Portmanteau Words

October 7, 2015

The current vogue––especially in American media language––for blends or portmanteau words has reached what can only be called ham-mouthed (to coin a word). In today’s spam messages to my blog I even found the grotesque item consultdustry (although this one came from Thailand). To try to counteract the impression left by such ugly neologisms, I want to reprise an earlier post below (which I’ve never done before):

Moldiferate, v., intr. (Portmanteau Words)

March 9th, 2012 | Author: Michael Shapiro

A ‘portmanteau word’ (alias ‘blend’) is a word formed by blending sounds from two or more distinct words and combining their meanings, e. g., smog from smoke + fog. Apparently, the word portmanteau was first used in this meaning by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass: “Well, ‘slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy’.‥ You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.” The etymology (according to the Oxford English Dictionary Online) is from Middle French: French portemanteau ‘officer who carries the mantle of a person in a high position’ (1507 in Middle French), ‘case or bag for carrying clothing’ (1547), ‘clothes rack’ (1640) < porte- porte- comb. form + manteau manteau n. In the British English of Carroll’s time, a portmanteau was a suitcase. In modern French, a porte-manteau is a clothes valet, a coat-tree or similar article of furniture for hanging up jackets, hats, umbrellas, and the like.

As I sat contemplating my navel this morning, I suddenly remembered a portmanteau word created (with her nonpareil linguistic sprezzatura) by my late wife Marianne Shapiro to describe just my situation, namely moldiferate (mo[u]lder + proliferate), which is an intransitive verb meaning ‘to waste one’s time doing nothing while decomposing spiritually’. Another one of her creations in that vein is pestiferate (pestiferous + –ate), which she coined to mean ‘to cause to be pestiferous’. Neither word is in the OED, but they should be.



Paralinguistic Differences between the Sexes (“Vive la différence!”)

October 5, 2015

All languages exhibit differences between the speech of males and females, extending in differing degree across grammar, including phonetics and stylistics. In Japanese, for instance, women’s speech is markedly different from that of men, to the point that women resort to a special subset of grammatical categories when speaking (for example, the consistent use of the passive mood instead of the active that is characteristic of honorific language for both sexes).

When speaking, both men and women do other things with their bodies beside utter words: they gesticulate with their hands, raise their eyebrows, open their eye sockets beyond normal size, take sharp intakes of breath, hunch their shoulders, nod their heads up and down or side to side, etc. Among speakers of contemporary American English, the paralinguistic gap between males and females has been widening for some time: women’s speech today is accompanied by much more paralinguistic behavior than is that of men. All one need do to be convinced of this is to spend some time observing women talking––particularly to each other and without the participation of male interlocutors––preferably without their being aware of being observed.

What these various paralinguistic features mean is a difficult question to answer, although there have been numerous attempts to catalogue and analyze them in the sociolinguistic and semiotic literature (incl. whole monographs devoted to these phenomena). From the point of view of semiosis, the paralinguistic signs are iconic indexes, but it is not at all clear if there is a pattern informing the gestures that accompany speech. Some speakers clearly evince paralinguistic idiosyncrasies, i. e., movements that are peculiar either to them alone or to them as members of certain groups (like families). But overall, when it comes to American females of all ages, these movements are much more frequent, specialized, and overt in their behavior than they are in the paralinguistics of males. This is the sort of behavior that tends to confirm the cliché about women being generally more “expressive”––or even “emotional”––than men. Vive la différence!