As well as being the French word for "coathanger", porte-manteau is used in English to mean a word built using bits of other words (though we spell it portmanteau). A classic example is "brunch" - not quite breakfast, not quite lunch.
As it happens, Manteau is also the French word for "mantle" in geology. The mantle is Earth's layers, between the core and the crust. So you can see how the word for "coat" and "layer" are the same. However, not all layers are called manteau - the general term is couche (which means a baby's "nappy" - go figure).
While we're on the topic, the word Manteau features two very tricky points of French pronunciation, too: an sounds like the start of the word "aunt" in a posh British accent, and eau, which is helpfully pronounced just like the letter o (in French). On top of that, its plural is formed by adding a silent x: manteaux. You're welcome.
For a long time, I used to think the word portmanteau meant a word with a different word's meaning hooked onto it. But that's just a misnomer (if the extra meaning is wrong) , or a synonym (if it's right).
My favourite portmanteau of all is Schniposa, a German term meaning Schnitzel mit Pommes und Salat ("schnitzel with chips and salad"). I like it, partly because it's fun to say out loud, and because I quite like that there is a single word for a three-part dish. It's even in the dictionary (thanks to @geschictenpost for pointing that out). I find there's something quite elegant about it. In fact, German uses portmanteaux (or is it portmanteaus?) like this quite often. Another example I like is the word for "apprentice", which is Azubi. Short for Auszubildende, it literally means "the person who is to be trained".
Scientific language often uses quite long and complicated expressions, too. So it's no surprise to find portmanteaux cropping here, too. For instance, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in the USA is usually just called "FermiLab". Also in physics, the antimatter partner of the electron is called the "positron", as in "positive electron", because it has positive electric charge. Not to be confused with the proton, however!
Even this very website is called Scilogs, which is short for "science blogs". Going one step further, "blog" is a shortening of "weblog", which is itself a compound noun , made from "web" and "log", as in "to log an entry" like captains on ships, or as in a diary.
[Aside: a "compound noun" is not the same thing as a portmanteau, though you could argue that porte-manteau in French is a compound noun.]
Another famous scientific portmanteau, this time from biology, is "HeLa". This one is short for Henrietta Lacks, a woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951. Some of her cells were taken by doctors to further research into tumours. The descendants of those cells are still in use today and are known as "HeLa" cells. The case of Henrietta Lacks is one of the most important examples of bioethical controversies in the history of science, and it is still unfolding.
I have only given a few examples of portmanteaux here, but there must be plenty more, especially in the world of science and technology. What are your favourites?
Over to you:
- What are your favourite scientific portmanteaus? The Wikipedia list of portmanteaux is a bit short for the "science" category, although (perhaps unsurprisingly) the "technology" list is quite long.
- Can you create a clever portmanteau to describe science portmanteaux, jargon, etc? Something like scicabulary, vocabulaboratory, portmantology... only better?
- Are there any fun portmanteaux in other languages?
Credit where it's due: