The Word Detective Discovers a Smooth Blend

“Well,” I said to De Sica, “this list of portmanteau words or blends is as interminable as the last commercial break in a hour-long show, but I want to throw out a few more. I don’t think their etymology needs any explanation.

“Okay, shoot,” said De Sica, stretching his interlaced hands forward.

“Of course there’s your blended celebrity couples like Brangelina and TomKat.

“Right, and those TV shows like Suburgatory and Californication.”

“Yes, plus slang adjectives like bodacious, which the etymologists at the OED trace back to 1845 and guess comes from bold and audacious. Okay, I slipped a little etymology in there, but I won’t bother to explain the origin of bootylicious.”

“Now that we’re off the subject of blends,” De Sica said, “remember when you said that Mr. Starbuck in Moby-Dick had flesh as hard as twice-baked biscuit? Then you mentioned biscotti. Are biscotti really baked twice?”

“Sure. That’s the traditional recipe, anyway. Didn’t you ever bake any with your nonna? Biscotto, the singular of biscotti, like the English word biscuit, is based on Latin bis ‘twice’ + coctus, past participle of coquere ‘to cook.’  And, would you believe it: according to the OED, in the 16th through 18th centuries the English word was very sensibly spelled b-i-s-k-i-t, but later we picked up the French spelling but kept our old pronunciation.”

“English spelling! Crazy; isn’t it? But what were you saying about my nonna? What’s that?”

“Your grandmother. You’re Italian; aren’t you?”

“No. What makes you think that?”

“Your name: De Sica.”

He laughed. “That’s not my name. It’s just my handle. You’re confused by my New York accent. It’s spelled T-h-e S-e-e-k-e-r. Some of the guys back in Brooklyn stuck me with that. They think I ask too many questions.”

“Oh, really?! So what is your name?”

He shoved his dark glasses back onto his wavy brown hair, revealing a pair of Asian-looking eyes. “Chan. C.J. Chan.”

“Pleased to meet you, Charl—“

“C.J.” he insisted. “I get my height from my mother. They’re mostly African-American and Swedish on that side,” he explained, though I wasn’t asking.

“So you’re the real American blend.”

He nodded.

And a mighty smooth one, I thought.

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2 Responses to The Word Detective Discovers a Smooth Blend

  1. And this post is a mighty smooth blend of lots of portmanteau words: well done.

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