Mockingjay, the upcoming title that concludes Suzanne Collins's fantastic Hunger Games trilogy, is a "portmanteau" word, combining "mockingbird" and "bluejay." Unusual, but not off-putting. "Onpassing" is a newish word that's been popping up in emails in place of the usual "forwarding."
Which word puts your back up? Or upputs your back? Let's look at what's going on with our language when words mesh and meld.
Portmanteau words combine both the syllables and the meaning of two different words to create a new word. The term portmanteau for such words was coined by Lewis Carroll, whose poem "Jabberwocky," in his classic Through the Looking-Glass, is full of new coinages such as "frumious" and "slithy."
More familiarly, consider the modern coinages smog, skort, and brunch. Today, dictionaries list smog and brunch as a matter of course, but when those words first entered common usage, some traditionalists turned up their nose. Still, they so clearly filled a need and delighted the mind that they were quickly popular.
Not so onpassing! This word popped up in Michael Quinion's excellent World Wide Words newsletter this past week; it's been spotted repeatedly in emails in the financial world as a synonym for forwarding.
An informal survey of word-loving friends reveals almost universal disdain, if not outright repulsion, for this coinage, even though, as Quinion notes, many words are formed in the same way as onpassing. Onpassing comes from a switch in order, adding what was a verb particle, on, that usually comes after the word, to the beginning. Think of bypassing, inputting, incoming, outsourcing, and the like. Most of us are perfectly comfortable with them. But some just tend to resist the new. Look at the lede for this piece: "upputs your back" comes from "puts your back up," and doesn't it do exactly that?
Perhaps the difference between brunch and onpassing is that brunch immediately fills an unmet need in the language, to describe a new mealtime, while onpassing isn't really necessary—the word forwarding does the job just fine.
Perhaps brunch is just tasty and fun and onpassing is just email forwarding, and email forwarding is not nearly as enjoyable as brunch—or a Suzanne Collins book.
So, do you like onpassing? Why or why not? And what's your favorite portmanteau word? (Hint: mine is not spork.)
Ellen Scordato has 25 years' book publishing experience as an editor, copy editor, proofreader, and managing editor. She's now a partner in The Stonesong Press, a nonfiction book producer and agency. In addition to her work at Stonesong, Ellen has taught grammar, punctuation, and style at the New School for more than 12 years in the English Language Studies department and is currently teaching English as a Second Language at Cabrini Immigrant Services.
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