Monday, August 23, 2010

Pack Your Portmanteau

Post by Jenny

NCW member Bob McDonnell writes a very fun blog “exploring use, misuse and humor of words,” where he recently posted a link to the 50 Funniest Pop Culture Sayings That Made it to the Dictionary.

I’m familiar with approximately thirty of the words, and of those thirty, only seven or so have made it into my personal lexicon. I have nothing against the rest—many of the words are quite clever—but I feel so chronically uncool when I try to incorporate slang into my vocabulary. Back in the day, I was pretty safe with any words or expressions from Seinfeld or The Simpsons, but even that window has closed for me now. As for more current slang, I can’t imagine trying to toss “adultescent” or “meatspace” into my conversation. (Indeed, my spellchecker doesn’t even recognize them as words, which is probably a good rule of thumb for me).

My favorite word on the list (though you won’t likely catch me using it) is #6: frenemy (friend + enemy). I love a good portmanteau—a fabulous word in itself that can mean “a large, hinged traveling case made of stiff leather,” or “a word composed of parts of two or more words.” I’m also drawn to the pairing of opposites—yin/yang, sweet/sour, comedy/tragedy, past/future, smooth/crunchy, and, occasionally, passive/aggressive.

I hope I don’t have human frenemies, but I have others. Caffeine is my frenemy (gives me daytime energy, nighttime insomnia.) So is chocolate (tastes good, makes me fat). Ditto the internet (vast source of helpful information, bottomless well of time-sucks).

My question today is not whether you have frenemies (though if you have a good story, please share) but how you incorporate slang into your writing. Especially YA writers…how do you make slang natural, how do you know when enough is enough? Are you forced to listen to actual teenagers conversing? (Okay, so maybe it’s not as bad as I imagine; I’ll find out in a few years.)

While we ponder the question of slang, let’s have a little fun on a Monday morning. Tell us your favorite portmanteau, or combine a couple of words to make your own. It doesn’t have to be serious or topical or even logical. For instance, here’s mine:

Smelloquence – the fluent and expressive description of olfactory stimuli.

For further inspiration, pay a visit to Urban Dictionary. At the very least, it will have you wondering…who actually talks like that?


Bob McDonnell said...

Thanks for the mention in The Writing Bug blog. I am proud to be a member of NCW.

In the post talking about new words in the dictionary, you used portmanteau in the heading.

I did an entire post on portmanteaus

Maybe as some point, NCW could have a contest to allow members to come up with new portmanteaus.

I bet this creativew group could come up with some interesting combination words.

Thanks again

Patricia Stoltey said...

I tend to avoid slang in contemporary stories because it can date our work, especially tales written for kids or teens. When writing historicals, however, use of slang helps set the story in time.

As for thinking up new words, I flunked that exercise. My combo words are usually unpronounceable.

Jenny said...

Bob, I don't know how I missed your post on portmanteaus. Thanks for the link. there's a classic.

I think the contest is a great idea.

Pat, I'm with you about not wanting to seem dated.
I bet you think up some great words!

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