Sunday, April 4, 2010

Blends, Word Play Offs, Sweet Tooth Fairies

Types of Blends
Click to enlarge.
(Gries, 2004)
Slanguage. Spanglish. Vocabulogic. Linguists call these types of words "blends" but they are more like collisions, because two words are smashed together, leaving out at least one letter in the process, merging sounds and meanings.  A blend is also called a portmanteau, a two-sided suitcase, so coined by Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland.  Michael Quinion describes blends more fully at World Wide Words. Examples include brunch (breakfast + lunch) and spam (spiced + ham). The other day, I encouraged a friend to "Enjoy the bruncheon" (thus using an established blend to spontaneously create a new blend). Click the image above to learn about different types of blends, but see my footnote. Read how blends reflect pop culture at the Lewis Carroll Society. 

Like churnalism, many of the neologisms "spied upon" by Paul McFedries are blends, reflecting the fact that blending has become fairly common. Word blending is a morphological process, just another way to create words. I have yet to read a study that measures the ability to construct or deconstruct a blend. Probably of low priority, but something to think about.

Note: A blend is similar to -- but not the same as -- a contraction: isn't, she's, you'll, etc. A blend is like a contraction in that they both involve smashing words together and omitting letters. However, a blend creates a new meaning. For instance, the blend emoticon denotes (and connotes) more than simply emotion + icon. In contrast, a contraction restates the meaning of the two words (wasn't denotes was not). Furthermore, in a contraction an apostrophe is inserted where the missing letter(s) would have been. 

The clever concoction fantabulous, used in the banner below to advertise the philanthropic and free (!!) vocabulary quiz-game Free Rice, is a blend of fantastic and fabulous.

Somewhat like a blend, a "sweet tooth fairy" is a new kind of word, created by Graham Hidderley/Burgess (see WordNik and Boston Globe). To create a sweet tooth fairy one combines two concepts (e.g., sweet tooth + tooth fairy). The final word of the first concept must match the first word of the second one. Delete the duplicated word, hence sweet tooth + tooth fairy  >>>  sweet tooth fairy (xy + yz = xyz).
Some popular sweet tooth fairies:
stop sign language
world peace train
magnetic personality disorder

complete chaos theory
social butterfly kisses
false economy size (see comments)

Want to interest students in words and phrases? Add blends and sweet tooth fairies to your fresh bread basket of ideas. Let the class construct and deconstruct them with peers, discussing them, rating their utility and appeal, using them in writing samples. Who knows where it might end! Start a contest, where the most creative inventors go to the word play offs.This is lots of fun should boost verbal proficiency. 

 Learn more about word play in chapter three of The Word Conscious Classroom (Scott, Skobel, & Wells, 2008). Scott et al. suggest that fostering an interest in words is especially promising for learners who are not surrounded with an enriched verbal environment at home. They say: 

An awareness of words, a love of words, and a curiosity about words do not just develop by themselves. Students who can recognize powerful language and use it themselves in their writing have developed this awareness through scaffolding by adults in their lives" (p. 12).
Depending on the skill level, the act of constructing and/or deconstructing a blend should deepen linguistic insight. Over the holiday, why not create a few blends and sweet tooth fairies. Engage in a little verbal volley. Go on, make some jelly bean soup! Be an Easter egg head.


Note: There are at least three types of blends and linguists do not always agree on what constitutes a blend, but for the purpose of understanding English words, it should be sufficient to simply identify the words that combine to form the blend and discuss the new meaning created by the blend.

  • Aronoff, M., & Fudeman, K. (2005). What is morphology? Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.  
  • Gries, Stefan Th. (2004) Some characteristics of English morphological blends. Andronis, Mary A., Erin Debenport, Anne Pycha, Keiko Yoshimura, eds. Papers from the 38th Regional Meeting of the Chicago Linguistics Society: Vol. II. The Panels. Chicago, IL: Chicago Linguistics Society, 201-216.
  • Scott, J., Skobel, B., & Wells, J. (2008). The word-conscious classroom: Building the vocabulary readers and writers need. New York: Scholastic - Theory into Practice Series.