Here is the entry for portmanteau in the 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica:

“PORTMANTEAU, a leather case or trunk for carrying articles of personal use when travelling. The typical portmanteau of the present day has two compartments which, fastened at the back by hinges, close together like a book. The original portmanteau (adopted from Fr. portemanteau, porter, to carry, manteau, cloak, mantle) was a flexible round leather case to hold a cloak or other garment and of such a shape as could conveniently be carried on a rider’s saddle. In French the word was also applied to a bracket or set of pegs on which to hang clothes. C. L. Dodgson (‘Lewis Carroll’) in Through the Looking Glass (‘The Song of the Jabberwock’) used the expression ‘portmanteau word’ of an invented word composed of two words run together and supposed to convey humorously the combined meaning: thus ‘slithy’ conveys slimy and lithe; ‘mimsy,’ flimsy and miserable.”

In borrowing French portemanteau, English changed only one thing: it dropped the first e. Spanish, however, needs a vowel in that position, because the consonant sequence rtm is beyond the pale for Spanish speakers. Spanish ended up borrowing French portemanteau as portamanteo, in which a savvy Spanish speaker can recognize the components portar ‘to carry, bring,’ which has mostly been replaced by llevar and traer, and mantel, which in Spanish means not ‘cloak’ but ‘tablecloth’ and altar-cloth.’

In 1800, Joseph (born Giuseppe) Baretti published a reference book with the title:

In that dictionary, Baretti translated the [now strange] English term a clothe-bag as ‘balija [modern valija], mochila, portamanteo, maleta, manga.’ Of those five Spanish words, portamanteo has been largely eclipsed by the other four. Maleta enters into the compound palabra-maleta, which translates Lewis Carroll’s portmanteau word.

© 2010 Steven Schwartzman


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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