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In advance of the recent blizzard which struck the East Coast of the U.S., many media outlets were trying to coin a catchy name to describe the event (mainly to hashtag it on social media, let’s be honest).

What struck me was that no one name really caught on — people were using repeats from previous years, like Snowmageddon and Snowpocalypse; Slate tried desperately to make “David Snowie” work; The Weather Channel labeled it “Jonas”; and there was a lot of defaulting to “blizzard2016.”

Putting parts of two words together to create something new is called a portmanteau, from the French word for “suitcase”; it's also known as a name smush or a ship name. The modern, culturally relevant version started with celebrity pairings (Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were the original Bennifer) and has exploded from there, especially names for fictional "ships" (romantic relationships which are discussed or imagined for TV or movie characters) and any brouhaha which can be combined with "-gate" (from the Watergate Hotel, the scene of a break-in which started the scandal which toppled U.S. President Nixon). No single portmanteau for this storm became popular, which makes me wonder if it was because no one could figure out a good new one.

What are the criteria for a good portmanteau? What aspects should you think about when trying to coin such a term? What makes "Snowmaggedon" and "Brangelina" and "Johnlock" work but not "BeyonZ"?

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I have no experience but here's what I came up with:

1: make it flow. In your examples above, Brangelina and Snowmageddon both flow much better than BeyonZ.

  1. Make it catchy. Snowmageddon is very catchy. So is Bennifer. Blizzard2016 isn't catchy.

  2. Make it relevant. Calling a snowstorm Jones had no relevancy towards the subject.

  3. Keep it short. If someone were to call the blizzard "super-duper-snow-scare" it would have been too long to say easily. Blizzard2016 is also too long.

  4. Creativity. I have personally never heard of "Snowmageddon" before, but it is very creative. Something like "blizzard2016" is just stating the obvious without any artistic flair.

I hope this helps a little with explaining the aspects of a good portmanteau

  • Why is Snowmageddon "catchy"? What's "catchy" about it? that's part of what I'm looking for. – Lauren Ipsum Jan 25 '16 at 22:56
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    Armageddon and Snowmageddon have the same number of syllables. Something about that makes it catchy... At least, for me. – Deau X. Machinus Jan 25 '16 at 23:34
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Here are some of the qualities I came up with:

Flow. The two words have to flow together smoothly. Brangelina is an easy combination of Brad and Angelina. It helps when the two words share letters or sounds.

Syllables. Swapping out the same number of syllables keeps the rhythm of the original word. This is why Snowmageddon works. Snowpocalypse has the same syllables but less flow because there's a slight pause where the two consonants come together.

Spelling. The written version of flow. You have to be able to spell it easily and intuitively, or people won't want to share it. Bennifer works really well; while BeyonZ has flow, you have to think about how to write it so the names are recognizable.

Recognizable parts. It's easy to pick out "John" and "Sherlock" in Johnlock or "drama" and "comedy" in dramedy.

New recognizable entity. Obviously there's no such thing as a Sharktopus, but you know exactly what that word is trying to describe. A mockumentary is a parody of a documentary. Brunch is the meal well after breakfast but too early for lunch.

Sound. It has to sound like a word. Jorts, a combination of "jeans" and "shorts," sounds weird and hasn't caught on. Spork is silly but workable. Motel has been around so long that you might not know it's a combination of "motor" and "hotel."

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It is not easy to pin down, but I will make a stab at a partial answer.

Firstly, people need to be able to recognise that it is made up from two separate words.

Secondly, they need to know who or what the two halves are. For example, I would never have worked out 'Bennifer' if you hadn't explained it.

The two halves need to clearly represent the phenomenon and complement each other.

The pairing must be seen as being clever and original. However, piggybacking on an already existing portmanteau is quite popular with words like 'Grexit' and 'Brexit'.

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