The Word Detective Checks into “Motel” and Finds “Smog” and “Brunch”

“One more thing before we get down to why I came here,” said de Sica.

“Shoot,” I said, crossing my legs and flicking a toe in his direction.

He took note of my stilettos. “Odd footwear for a gumshoe.”

“Words aren’t like people. They don’t run for cover when you start nosing around in their business. Besides these babies have steel reinforced toes. Good for self-defense and keeping my feet intact should a volume of the Oxford English Dictionary slip out of my grasp. So what’s your question?”

‘I was thinking about those “portmanteau” words. What about “brunch” from “breakfast” and “lunch”? “Smog” comes from “smoke” and “fog” and “motel” from “motor” and “hotel”; right?’

“I think you’re right,” I said thumbing my phone. “Actually I don’t worry about toe injuries much any more.  I can check the OED online through L.A. Public Library. See?” I asked, turning the screen toward him:

“1896    Punch 1 Aug. 58/2   To be fashionable nowadays we must ‘brunch’. Truly an excellent portmanteau word, introduced, by the way, last year, by Mr. Guy Beringer, in the now defunct Hunter’s Weekly, and indicating a combined breakfast and lunch.”

‘Look at this. “Motel” was originally the name of a chain.’

“1925    Hotel Monthly Mar. 37/2   The Milestone Interstate Corporation‥proposes to build and operate a chain of motor hotels between San Diego and Seattle, the hotels to have the name ‘Motel’.”

‘What about “smog”? I bet that goes back to the 1950s,’ said de Sica.

“So you’re a betting man?”

“Okay, just give it to me straight.”

“1905    Daily Graphic 26 July 10/2   In the engineering section of the Congress Dr. H. A. des Vœux, hon. treasurer of the Coal Smoke Abatement Society, read a paper on ‘Fog and Smoke’. He said it required no science to see that there was something produced in great cities which was not found in the country, and that was smoky fog, or what was known as ‘smog’.”

“Well, we’ve made some progress in a hundred-plus years,” I said. “Now we’ve got coal-fired power plants in the country. Maybe I could use that Frappuccino after all.”

Photo by pixeljones (

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5 Responses to The Word Detective Checks into “Motel” and Finds “Smog” and “Brunch”

  1. Good research: I had no idea that smog goes back as far as 1905, nor that motel was created as a brand name.

  2. Yes, learning is such great fun.
    As for portmanteau words, I thought it appropriate to make “blog” the subject of my first post:

  3. lexiekahn says:

    Fascinating post on “blog”!

  4. Pingback: Hotel snooper | Groveplanet

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