In the July issue of D Magazine, the word “portmanteau” appeared in two stories. You may well wonder how rare an occurrence this was, and I will tell you how rare it was. From what I can gather, in the 40 years that the magazine has been in business, the word “portmanteau” has appeared in our pages just four times — including the two examples from July.
Zac used the word in his profile of Councilman Dwaine Caraway, explaining that when a constituent called him “trill,” he was combining the words “true” and “real.” And I used the word in my profile of Matt Rutledge, whose former company Woot combined the words “wow” and “loot.” At least two readers noticed our “portmanteau”s:
We got a letter from Lee Rogers in Fort Worth, who said:
“Nice to see that Zac Crain and Tim Rogers both subscribe to the ‘Word of the Day’ vocabulary builder. How else to explain both of them using the obscure word ‘portmanteau’ in their respective articles?”
And, more recently, internet user man Andy Orrock gave us props on Twiter:
— Andy Orrock (@andyorrock) August 17, 2014
I don’t know about Zac, but I do receive a daily word-of-the-day email from Bryan Garner. That ain’t how I came to be familiar with “portmanteau,” though. And I know the word has been in Zac’s toolbox for quite some time. A few years back, we were walking from the office to our parking garage, and Zac was making fun of whatever rucksack I was then using to tote around my laptop and other personal effects. I have always marveled at Zac’s refusal to carry anything that doesn’t fit in his pockets. Anyway, I referred to my bag as a portmanteau, which confused Zac, because he only knew the word as meaning a combination of two others. I helpfully explained that it was a French word for a traveling bag with two compartments, which is how it came to also have the definition he was familiar with.
Flash forward several years. Zac and I both turned in stories that used the word. We read each other’s copy.
“How the hell can we publish a magazine that uses that word twice?” I asked.
“We can’t,” Zac said. “You’ll have to change yours. Use the word ‘mashup’ instead.”
“YOU use ‘mashup,’” I said. “The right word is ‘portmanteau,’ and it is mine, sir!”
It escalated quickly, and Zac and I wound up on the floor of the office, each with the other in a death grip, trying to choke the would-be portmanteauer into submission. After about two hours of this, we came to the conclusion that we were evenly matched, and we each would have our way with the word.
That is how it happened. Let the record reflect.
UPDATE: I went and checked the other two instances in which the word appeared in the magazine. You know what? Zac is responsible for three of the four “portmanteau”s that have been published in the magazine. He edited this story written by Carol Shih and inserted it into her copy. And though he was uncredited, he wrote this intro to “The 20 Best Breakfasts.” Amazing.