“I know there’s something else on your mind,” I told de Sica, rattling the ice in my drink with the straw, “but before we get off the topic of portmanteau words, I want to clear something up.”
“It’s this: although Lewis Carroll gave them that name in the 19th century, these word mash-ups, which linguists call blends, go way back to the beginnings of English. But since Old English is as impenetrable as a poison ivy forest, let me give you an example from Middle English.”
“There was a word drubly, meaning ‘turbid’ and ‘troubled.’ Here’s what the OED Online says about its etymology:
apparently a blend of Middle English trobly , troubly adj. from French, and Old English dróf , dróflic (Middle English *drov(e)ly ) turbid, disturbed.
“Look at this example they cite,” I said, turning the screen of my phone toward him. “It’s from a book, a travel guide, apparently, published in 1425, called Mandeville’s Travels:
If þe water be clere‥þe bawme es gude, and, if it be thikk and drubly, it es sophisticate.
“Bawme is now spelled b-a-l-m. Sophisticate meant ‘counterfeit’ or ‘adulterated, mixed with some inferior substance,’ in other words, phony as a ‘you have won’ pop-up window.”
“I’ve met a few people like that,” said de Sica.
I pried the lid off my drink. It looked a bit drubly. I pushed it aside.