Portmanteaus, Abbreviations, Acronyms, Initialisms

Are you puzzled by the term portmanteau (“pohrt-man-toe”)?

It’s a hybridization of two words; the words are mashed together and some letters are discarded in the process.

This is different than a compound word, like “doghouse,” where two words are put together. Why? No letters are lost in the making of a compound word.

Here are some examples of portmanteaus:

Motor + Hotel = Motel

iPod + Broadcast = Podcast

Guess + Estimate = Guesstimate

Stalker + Fan = Stan

Mock + Cocktail = Mocktail

Bombay + Hollywood = Bollywood

Nigeria + Hollywood=Nollywood

Brangelina, Bennifer, TomKat: Hybridization of the names of celebrities who are dating or married. If they break up, these words are abruptly retired.

Here are some examples of abbreviations:

ScarJo, JLaw, JLo: Abbreviating a celebrity’s name. Sometimes it’s catchy, oftentimes, it’s not. Usually it’s *not* the celebrity’s idea, and the celebrity doesn’t necessarily like it. Jennifer Lopez (“JLo“) is a notable exception.

In the military world, they use abbreviations like SYSCOMM for systems communication, or NATSEC for national security. It clips the first few letters from two or more words and then blends them together.

In the medical world, they say “STAT” in emergency situations. This is short for statinum, the Latin word for “immediately.”

Here are some examples of acronyms. In an acronym, the letters are pronounced in an all run together fashion, like an ordinary word. Here are some examples:

  • FEMA (pronounced “fee-mah”) Federal Emergency Management Agency
  • FICA (pronounced “feye-kuh”) Federal Insurance Credit Association
  • OSHA (pronounced “oh-sha”) Occupational Safety & Health Agency
  • POTUS (pronounced “poh-tuhss”) President of the United States
  • FLOTUS (pronounced “flow-tuhss”) First Lady of the United States
  • SCOTUS (pronounced “scoh-tuhss”) Supreme Court of the United States
  • NATO (pronounced “nay-toh”) North Atlantic Treaty Organization
  • PETA (pronounced “pee-tuh”) animal rights nonprofit known for extreme tactics
  • RAICES (pronounced “races”) The Refugee And Immigrant Center For Education And Legal Services
  • SCUBA (pronounced “skoo-buh”) Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus
  • RADAR (pronounced “ray-dar”) Radio Detection and Ranging
  • USA PATRIOT act (pronounced “yoo-ess-A pay-tree-uht”) act: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act
  • HIPAA (pronounced “hihp-uh”) Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act
  • FIFO (pronounced “fi-foh”/”fee-foh”) first in, first out (a food storage rule)
  • GEICO (pronounced “guy-koh”) insurance
  • DACA (pronounced “dah-kuh”) deferred action for childhood arrivals

Initialisms mean the letters are pronounced individually. It was customary to see these written with periods after each letter in the 20th century, but that is less common in the digital age. Organizations using initialisms include television stations callsigns, radio stations call letters, non-governmental organizations, government acts, government departments, professional organizations, social change organizations, and any group or cause that can’t come up with an acronym title for their group.

  • NBC (pronounced “ihn-bee-see”) National Broadcasting Channel
  • BBC (pronounced “bee-bee-see”) British Broadcasting Channel
  • PBS (pronounced “pee-bee-ess”) Public Broadcasting Channel
  • ABC (pronounced “A-bee-see”) American Broadcasting Channel, Australian Broadcasting Channel
  • DW (pronounced “dee-double-u”) Deutsche World news
  • NHK (pronounced “enn-aich-kay”) Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai (translated to English as Japanese Broadcasting Channel)
  • CBC (pronounced “see-bee-see”) Canadian Broadcasting Channel
  • MTV (pronounced “em-tee-vee”) Music Television
  • TNT (pronounced “tee-ihn-tee”) Turner Network Television
  • TBS (pronounced “tee-bee-ess”) Turner Broadcasting Service
  • AMC (pronounced “A-em-see”) American Movie Channel
  • TCM (pronounced “tee-see-em”) Turner Classic Movies
  • CNN (pronounced “see-ihn-ihn”) Cable News Network
  • FBI (pronounced “eff-bee-eye””) Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • DVD (pronounced “dee-vee-dee”) digital versatile disk
  • NSC (pronounced “enn-ess-see”) National Security Council
  • KACL (pronounced “kay-A-see-ell”) A fictional Seattle radio station featuring Frasier Crane’s advice show. [Real-life stations in Seattle include KUOW (pronounced “kay-yoo-oh-double u”), KNKX (pronounced “kay-en-kay-ex”), and KEXP (pronounced “kay-ee-ex-pee”). NOTE: In the US, stations east of the Mississippi River start with W, and those west of the Mississippi start with K.]
  • WGBH (pronounced “double-u-gee-bee-aich”) Boston’s public television station
  • WITV (pronounced “double-u-eye-tee-vee”) Charleston (SC) public television station
  • AMA (pronounced “A-em-A”) American Medical Association
  • NIH (pronounced “ihn-eye-A-ch”) National Institute of Health
  • FHA (pronounced “eff-A-ch-A”) Federal Housing Authority
  • ADA (pronounced “A-dee-A”) Americans with Disabilities Act
  • DOJ (pronounced “dee-oh-jay”) Department of Justice
  • DOD (pronounced “dee-oh-dee”) Department of Defense
  • DOT (pronounced “dee-oh-tee”) Department of Transportation
  • DMV (pronounced “dee-em-vee”) Department of Motor Vehicles
  • IIA (pronounced “eye-eye-A”) Institute of Internal Auditors
  • DOH (pronounced “dee-oh-aich”) Department of Health
  • UN (pronounced “”yoo-enn”) United Nations
  • NGO (pronounced “ihn-gee-oh”) non-governmental organization
  • NAACP (pronounced “ihn-double-A-see-pee”) National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
  • WWF (pronounced “double u double u eff”) World Wildlife Fund, World Wrestling Federation
  • ING (pronounced “eye-ihn-gee”) Internationale Nederlanden Groep, translated as International Netherlands Group
  • AIG (pronounced “A-eye-gee”) American International Group


Today’s Tweet: “It’s not unheard of, or verbotent, for cells to be pluripotent…” #nobelprize #currying_favor

The 2012 Nobel Prizes are being announced this week. The first one awarded is Best Lead Actor in a Physiology Comedy or Musical. I kid! I kid! [Though that would be awesome.]

But in all seriousness, the first category is the Nobel Prize is indeed the Physiology or Medicine category.This year it was awarded to two men, Shinya Yamanaka and Sir John B. Gurdon. Ironically, Gurdon’s work was published the same year Yamanaka was born. For another layer of irony, that same year, Watson and Crick were awarded their Nobel in Physiology. 

But back to the present…Yamanaka feels deep gratitude to Gurdon’s work, that he couldn’t do his own stem cell discoveries without that precedent. [You just never know the kind of impact you can have in life, do you?] I could go on, but the interviews with each scientist are here at the Nobel site. You can hear both men describe their work in their own words and in their own voices. That is so much better than the poor paraphrasing I could do on this blog.

Being a wordgeek, I was fascinated by the word pluripotent to describe stem cell behavior. It’s not a word I hear everyday.So I do what I always do–made a guess, then looked it up. 

If you don’t know much about stem cells, it can be hard to guess where this term ‘stems’ from. ‘Taking it apart, though. “pluri” sounds like plural, as in “more than one”, and “potent” means power. “Plural power” is a pretty good hint phrase to this word’s meaning.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, pluripotent means “not fixed as to developmental potentialities; especially :capable of differentiating into one of many cell types”. It had been a prevalent belief that cells were the type they were, they couldn’t change. And while this is true of red blood cells, or organ tissue cells, white blood cells, for instance, it is not true of stem cells at all.

If these cells only started and ended their development at the same time, no procreation or growth would be successful. Think about all the changes just our body, not to mention our worldview and self-realization have undergone since we were in diapers. I could wax philosophic that people are more like stem cells than they realize, full of pluripotential, which is actually a word too.

But I think that’s another post, for another time, for another blog.