Dot Wordsworth

Portmanteau words

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My husband woke himself up with a snort that sounded like a crocodile seizing the hind limb of a warthog, reached for his whisky glass and said, as if I had accused him of anything: ‘Just chillaxing.’ If this useless portmanteau word struggles through a few more months of life, it will be thanks to David Cameron — or his enemies.

Take these words: bromance, mumpreneur, mankle, frape, emberrorist, foodoir. They were talked up last year as new entries into dictionaries, and are supposed to mean: a sexless friendship; a working mother; a man’s ankle; altering a Facebook profile without permission; someone threatening to reveal embarrassing information; and a memoir incorporating recipes.

Not only does one not use these words, but if someone else used one, the immediate response would be: ‘I’m sorry...’ Hearing ‘I think it’s just a bromance,’ or, ‘She was a victim of frape’, either the listener would think the words were romance and rape, or he’d have no idea what was meant.

It was only because the context was clear that readers of Francis Elliott and James Hanning’s Cameron: Practically a Conservative understood what was being said, and that was with seeing it in type and helpfully inserted into inverted commas. ‘If there was an Olympic gold medal for “chillaxing” the Prime Minister would win it,’ according to an ‘ally’. Imagine what his enemies say.

The book has only been out for five weeks. In the first week, Mr Cameron called Ed Balls a ‘muttering idiot’ for repeatedly calling out the word opposite him in the Commons. The Speaker found idiot unparliamentary language; he didn’t rule on chillax.

In 2007, someone called Kevyn Bowling of Cherokee County High School, Georgia, posted a piece online recalling having used the word two years earlier. He assumed he’d invented it, until he watched a film called Final Destination 2, released in 2003, which used it too. (Other citations reach as far back as 1999.) Mr Bowling employed it mostly in the imperative, as a synonym for calm down (a term that Mr Balls also uses to annoy Mr Cameron, though that is another story). Mr Bowling says it ‘seems to diffuse tension in a room’. He means defuse, but, hey, chillax.