Malamanteau | Defining a new word


You won't find "malamanteau" in any printed dictionary for a while. Image from Flickr.

There are many reasons new words are created, but “malamanteau” is confounding many people. If you’re a fan of XKCD the webcomic, you saw what one author believes malamanteau means. However, if you’ve heard malamanteau as the word of the day at the coffee shop or water cooler, you may be wondering what the heck it means. No, it doesn’t have to do with love, mathematics, paycheck loans or sarcasm. Malamanteu is actually relatively simple.

The original definition of Malamanteau

On XKCD this morning, the author drew a non-existent Wikipedia page for the word “malamanteu.” To be clear: this Wikipedia page did not exist at the time, but it now does, and redirects to XKCD. The definition XKCD offers for malamanteu is “a neologism for a portmanteau created by incorrectly combining a malapropism with a neologism.” XKCD may be a free comic that wields all kind of social power, but this one left even financial industry creative types and English professors both saying “Huh?”

Breaking down malamanteau

The definition of malamanteau makes a lot more sense when you break down the basic parts of the definition. Neologism is simply a new word. A portmanteau is a blended word, first described by Lewis Carroll in Through The Looking Glass. Any word that blends both the sound and the meaning of two words is a portmanteau – for example, “don’t” is a portmanteau of “do” and “not.” Finally, a malapropism is where one word is substituted for another that sounds the same – but does not mean the same. The word malapropism comes from a word that means “inappropriate.” For example, allegory instead of alligator.

What malamanteu really means

So, what does malamanteu really mean? Malamanteu is a new word for a blended word created by wrongly mixing an inappropriate, similar-sounding word with a new word. In other words, you have a malamanteu if you combine “illterate” (in place of “obliterate”) with “masil” or some other non-existant word to create “masillerterate” to describe what the stock market crash did to the economy.

In other words, malamanteu is, in itself, a malamanteu – a created word that combines a created word with an incorrect word.


Wikipedia Malapropism
Wikipedia Neologism
Wikipedia Portmanteau