Using Portmanteaus in Writing

What is a portmanteau and why should you care? The first portmanteau I remember was motel. Originally, it blended the words hotel and motorist, hence a motorist’s hotel. Motel. Now motel is an accepted word found in all dictionaries. My favorite was probably cheeseburger, blending cheese and hamburger. The word smog, blending smoke and fog, has been around as long as I have (long time!). TV cook Rachael Ray created her own portmanteau of stoup (thicker than soup but thinner than stew). Designer dog breed names are portmanteaus: cock-a-poo, labradoodle, puggle, etc.

There are lists of portmanteaus. If you’re interested, do a search. What concerns us as authors is the use of portmanteaus in our writing. Historical fiction writers especially need to know the origins of any portmanteau before using it. The origins might out-date the setting of your story. For instance, in the early 1970s, ranchers began breeding cattle with bison to produce beefalo. Larry McMurtry knew better than to have Gus and Call mention beefalo, motels, or frenemy in his Pulitzer-award-winning novel Lonesome Dove. Call and Gus definitely didn’t have a bromance

If your character chortles, he or she must live in a time after Lewis Carrol, who created the word from snort and chuckle. Not to be snarky, but did you know snark is a portmanteau of snide remark?

As always, when in doubt look it up. Don’t guesstimate.*

*From guess and estimate



Remember my rant about “like” as a dialog tag? 

The following is not an example of a dialog tag and should never be used in writing (And I wish it was never used. Period!):

“She was like, ‘why am I here?’ and I’m like “you’re the bridesmaid. You have to help pick out the dress.’ And she’s like, ‘It’s your wedding. Pick what you want.’ and I’m like, ‘It’s your dress. I want your input.’ And she’s like, “Girl, it’s not as if I’ll ever wear it again. I have, like, a dozen bridesmaids’ dresses hanging in my closet now that I wore one time.’”

Yuck! I definitely don’t like reading this passage of dialog!

My advice works if you’re writing formal fiction or a business document, but what about chick lit? (Or any contemporary fiction aimed at the younger adult population?) Well, my friend, my advice is out the window. 

In fiction writing, you write what works. Stream of consciousness, first person, bad grammar, popular slang, whatever, as long as you do so intentionally.

The Grammar Cop may give you a warning, but she won’t cite you for a grammar infraction if said infraction fits the voice of your character or story.

However, if you want to write formal and proper dialog, please review my post from two years ago about dialog tags.

Flammable or Inflammable?

Here is another word choice dilemma for you: Flammable and Inflammable. If you look up definitions for the words, they read the same: Easily ignited and combustible. Inflammable (or inflame), while correct, is confusing because of the prefix “in.” Some words  are made negative with the “in” prefix (Inert, inglorious, inconceivable). Inflammable, however, means flammable. So which is correct?

While inflammable is a word, Grammar Cop strongly suggests you use flammable. For safety reasons, you don’t want anyone mistaking inflammable for unflammable.

Incredulous Grammar Cop Is Nauseated

If you’re one of the millions of viewers who watch BIG BANG THEORY, you’ve been treated to Sheldon Cooper’s numerous grammar lectures. One of my favorites is about nauseous versus nauseated. He says people often say they’re nauseous when they mean they’re nauseated.

I have a similar pet peeve with incredible versus incredulous. Do you use incredulous correctly?

Wrong: She felt incredulous guilt for her father’s death.

Correct: She felt incredible guilt for her father’s death.

Both are adjectives. Incredible means implausible or extraordinary. Incredulous means disbelieving or skeptical. A trick that helps me is substituting the synonym skeptical. If the synonym makes no sense, I’ve used incredulous incorrectly. (e.g. Skeptical grammar cop is nauseated)

Wrong:  That news story is simply incredulous.(You wouldn’t write That news story is simply skeptical.)

Correct: He read the news story, incredulous that anyone would believe such nonsense.

The bottom line: Use incredulous sparingly and never when you should use incredible.

Bonus: If you don’t watch BIG BANG THEORY, nauseated means you feel as if you might vomit. Nauseous means to induce nausea. Again, nauseous is seldom used and rarely used correctly. Just remember if you feel icky, you’re nauseated. If your body odor makes those around you feel icky, you’re nauseous. 😉

Those Confounded Compounds

Re-posting for the author who asked about awhile and a while.

Cheryl Norman - Grammar Cop

Do compound words confound you? For instance, when do you use everyday and when is it every day? Or the one I struggle with most–awhile. Or is it a while? As usual, the answer is: It depends.

Awhile is an adverb meaning a short period of time. It should be used with a verb.

She stopped working awhile and had a cup of tea.

A while (two words) can mean any length of time and acts as a noun.

She stopped working for a while and had a cup of tea.

Unfortunately, you’ll see awhile misused in the press. Ignorance? To save print space? Who knows.

Words like everyday or anytime are used as adjectives.

Red wine vinegar is her everyday vinegar.

Words like Every day and any day are two words when used as adverbs.

She uses red wine vinegar every day.
She uses red wine…

View original post 89 more words

Thunder and Lightning

It’s summer, and that means thunderstorms. A common spelling/grammar mistake I see is the use of the word lightening. Let’s clear up the confusion.

Lightening means to add light or to dilute the tint of a color.

She tried lightening her hair, but it turned an odd shade of red.

Lightning is an atmospheric phenomena typically seen during thunderstorms.

Ben Franklin attracted lightning with a metal key attached to a kite.

Remember, if it’s in the sky, it’s spelled without the e. 


Happy Father’s Day!

In case you didn’t know, today is the Sunday in June we honor the fathers in our lives. You may be tempted to call it “Fathers’ Day” or “Fathers Day” to pluralize it. However, the official (and Grammar Cop-accepted) holiday is called Father’s Day.

If you honor more than one father or dad, remember to use the correct plural form, fathers or dads. There is no apostrophe!

Happy Father’s Day to all you dads.