[maverickphilosopher] William F. Vallicella: On the Phrase 'Portmanteau Term of Abuse'
Email subscription to blog articles
maverickphilosopher at lists.powerblogs.com
Mon Mar 12 21:21:01 EDT 2007
Posted by William F. Vallicella:
On the Phrase 'Portmanteau Term of Abuse'
This over the transom from Dr. Mike Gilleland, the Laudator
In your excellent post on "'Chauvinism' and the Origin of PC in
the CP," you describe racism as a portmanteau term of abuse. The
dictionary defines portmaneau word as "a word formed by merging the
sounds and meanings of two different words, for example slithy,
from lithe and slimy; chortle, from chuckle and snort; a blend."
I don't see that racism falls into this category. Perhaps something
like omnibus (covering many things or situations at once) would be
preferable to portmanteau. I hope that you in turn will point out
any of my solecisms, of which there are probably many.
I welcome challenges like this one, at once both trenchant and civil.
One is never quite done with learning the mother tongue, and he who
preaches good writing ought to practice it as well. One will fail of
perfection, but one should aim at it. So let me concede right way that
'omnibus term of abuse' is slightly better than 'portmanteau term of
abuse.' Slightly better, because not exposed to Mike's reasonable
objection based as it is on a standard dictionary definition of
'portmanteau word.' But let's see what could be said in defense of my
usage which, if I am not mistaken, is not merely my usage.
1. A portmanteau is a large traveling bag according to my Webster's
dictionary. Webster's also shows an adjectival meaning: "combining
more than one use or quality." There is a separate entry for
'portmanteau word.' Such a word is a blend of two words. Thus 'smog'
combines 'smoke' and 'fog' and 'motel' 'motor' and 'hotel.' A blend is
not the same as a compound word: 'bagpipe' is a compound word but not
a blend. 'Alphanumeric' is an interesting case inasmuch as it blends
two words one of which is itself a portmanteau word ('alphabetical').
2. Although 'racism' is not a blend of two words in the way 'brunch'
is a blend of 'breakfast' and 'lunch,' 'racism' as used by many on the
Left today satisfies the adjectival meaning: "combining more than one
use or quality." Thus many lefties lump together many distinct notions
in the concept of a racist. Thus you are racist if you merely point
out some fact about race, or if you use the word 'niggardly' which
suggests 'nigger' to some, etc. These lefties are thus using 'racist'
to express a carry-all or portmanteau concept.
3. I am a philosopher; Mike is a classicist. My focus is more on
concepts and realities while his is more on words. (An indirect
indication of this is that I am very scrupulous about the
use/mention distinction while Mike is not -- no criticism intended.
The purpose of the scrupulosity is to keep ever in view the
distinction among words, senses/concepts, and referents.) Is 'racism'
a portmanteau word? No. But I suggest that it can be reasonably
thought of as a portmanteau concept in accordance with the second
dictionary meaning above cited.
More information about the maverickphilosopher