Telescope Words: Just a Fad?

Our language is peppered with “telescope words,” what linguists call “blends.” In essence, this is shorthand for what is normally two or more words. So, what you have, for example, is brunch (breakfast + lunch), or that big-city staple, smog (smoke + fog). On the surface, telescope words might appear to be a relatively modern invention. Fact is, they’ve been around for ages.

Lewis Carroll, the noted author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, referred to blends as “portmanteau words.” In his world, the mid-19th century, a portmanteau was a traveling bag that opened into two compartments. One of the many portmanteau words that Carroll coined is chortle (chuckle + snort).

Going forward, famed 20th-century columnist Walter Winchell could be counted upon for creating new blends, such as cinemactress and guestimate.

Today, telescope words are in constant use, they’re part of our everyday conversation. Think advertorial, camcorder, sitcom and Jazzercise.

Just a fad? Well, faddish, maybe—but the more words we pack into our writing and speaking, the more we find shorthand useful.

Words of all kinds are managed daily at James River Writing. Whether it involves writing, editing or proofreading, we help folks get the word out, including any ingenious telescope combinations they come up with.

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