Words at Work by Kathy McIntosh: When your frenemy offers you gallimaufry, take heed

KATHY McINTOSH, Boise author, speaker and freelance editor. Owner of A Well-Placed Word.June 25, 2013 

Kathy McIntosh

Let's consider a word found often in crossword puzzles: olio. An olio is a hodgepodge or potpourri, a miscellaneous collection or medley. It also describes a highly spiced stew originating in Spain and Portugal, with a Latin root of olla, meaning cooking pot.

Olio has dozens of synonyms, among them gallimaufry, ragout, melange, hash, alphabet soup, stew and gumbo. Since they all mean a variety or hodgepodge of different ingredients, be aware in restaurants that you may not receive exactly what you expected. Serving a ragout gives a chef leeway.

A variety act or show can also be called an olio.

I wondered if the word might be related to portfolio, a set of pieces of creative work or a line of products. Nope. That word comes from the early 18th century: from Italian portafogli, from portare (carry) + foglio (sheet of paper) (from Latin folium).

In the dictionary near portfolio is another fun word: portmanteau. A portmanteau is a large leather suitcase that opens into two hinged compartments. It stems from the same root, portare. Actually portmanteau brings to my mind images of drab, brown-suited men dragging themselves off the commuter train, carrying their sample cases, a la Willy Loman.

Back to words. A portmanteau word is one formed by merging or blending the sounds and meanings of two different words. Chortle is a portmanteau word from chuckle and snort, slithy is possibly a merging of lithe and slimy, galumph perhaps a mix of gallop and triumphant. These last three were created by Lewis Carroll for the poem "Jabberwocky" in "Through the Looking-Glass" and "What Alice Found There" (a sequel to "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"). I don't often use or see slithy today, but the others have lasted since 1871, quite a feat.

That accomplishment makes me wonder if gleeks, a portmanteau of "glee" and "geek," created to describe dedicated fans of the television program "Glee," will last. Gleek is a neologism, a newly coined term, word or phrase that may be in the process of entering common use but has not yet been accepted into mainstream language.

Edutainment is a new portmanteau word for educational information presented in a format to entertain. Another new one is frenemy (friend + enemy): a supposed friend whose actions and/or behavior are characteristic of a foe. Several of these come from Mark Nichol, who last fall listed in "Daily Writing Tips" 25 of his favorite new portmanteau words along with some established ones. (http://www.dailywritingtips.com/25-favorite-portmanteau-words).

Thinking about neologisms that have made it into our lexicon, consider brunch, a blend of breakfast and lunch. Cremains is the merging of cremated and remains. Motel is an old one: motor + hotel. So is motorcade (motor + cavalcade).

Shopaholic is another, more recent, portmanteau word. A surprise to me was slurve, the combination of slider and curve used to describe a slider thrown as a curve ball.

Getting back to our original word, olio, don't let some wily chef throw you a slurve when you order ragout. Ask for a full definition.



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