‘Brexit’? You gotta be fkidding!?

With Scexit still an event from the recent past (and, perhaps, now also one in the near future), it seems the great and the good of 21st century made-up language thought it was time for another silly new combo-word.

But this post is far more than just another story about the earth-shattering, Union-changing events of last week. This is far more important than counting the number of self-serving politicians who convinced more than half the population of Britain—mostly, it must be said, the half who have the least number of years left to survive the outcome—to believe their lies and their scare-mongering. This is more important than all of that—this is all about language.

Specifically, this is about the word ‘portmanteau’. Assuming you’ve even heard it before, there’s a good chance you don’t know what it means. So here’s a brief tutorial:

Firstly and importantly, two things a portmanteau isn’t: a contraction or a compound word. With portmanteaus, we’re talking about something else altogether, so if either a contraction or a compound word sprang to mind, forget them now.

It’s all a tad complex but, in a nutshell, a portmanteau is a new word formed from elements of two otherwise unrelated words. Typically, new portmanteaus begin life as tongue-in-cheek colloquialisms. Some of them fall into common-enough use to be formally sanctioned as new words.

It’s thanks to Lewis Carol’s 1871 sequel to Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland that we have the current (and second) Anglicized meaning of the French word ‘portmanteau’.

In Through The Looking-Glass, Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice that words like slithy and mimsy, which she’d seen in a poem, are “like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word”.

If you’re wondering “WTF does that even mean?” right now, that’s because Mr. Dumpty’s explanation only makes sense in the context of the day, when the first Anglicized use of portmanteau was to describe a suitcase that opened into two halves.

Despite being armed with all those fascinating facts, it’s still odds-on that you couldn’t even begin to guesstimate the ginormous number of portmanteaus you almost certainly hear and use every day without knowing.

For example, some of today’s most commonly used portmanteaus include because, smoggoodbye, fortnight and brunch. And there are countless others.

While some clearly look like two blended words—e.g., dumbfound, outpatient, paratroop or simulcast—there are plenty of others that aren’t so obvious—smash, squiggle, cellophane, hassle.

Chortle, from the same Lewis Carol novel as slithy and mimsy, is the lovechild of chuckle and snort. And the nation of Tanzania was born when Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged in the 1960s.

The UK’s Oxford and Cambridge universities have long been collectively referenced as Oxbridge; spoon-like forks (or fork-like spoons) called sporks have been around for a hundred years or more ; and blended dog breeds are almost always known by chortle-inducing portmanteaus, including gems like labradoodle, cockapoo and puggle.

Portmanteaus have always been popular in entertainment, too—they’ve given us sitcoms and Britcoms, mockumentaries and rockumentaries, romcomsdramedies and biopics (the latter of which, oft-mispronounced, is actually pronounced as bio + pic, not bi + opic – WTF is an “opic” anyway and why would anyone ever think that was the right way to say it?!).

The term Califiornication was first used thirty years before the Red Hot Chili Peppers decided it was a good name for their 1999 album; and SciFi geeks the world over are well-acquainted with cosplay and fanzines.

The 1960s was the decade of The Beatles; in the 70s, Jim Henson made his mark with The Muppets; throughout the 1980s we signed on to Medicare and used Telecom to communicate, sometimes via telex or intercom, while Telethons were an effective combination of TV and charity fundraising. And by the mid-90s, half the world was obsessed with Britpop.

Disabled athletes take part in the Paralympics; whilst there, they likely hear some Spanglish, Chinglish and Franglais and use their camcorders to capture video footage of the goings-on around them.

Today we eat broccoflowers and cronuts and drink alcopops, mocktails and frappuccinos; and anyone with a penchant for retail therapy is generally known as a shopaholic.

Our Highway Patrol officers ask us to blow into a breathalyzer and, when we’re on holiday, we might take a train from the UK to France through the Chunnel or stay in a motel.

In short, all those words are portmanteaus.

The English language is both comparatively complex and sloppily bastardised. It’s the first, second or foreign tongue of more than a billion people, many of whom either don’t understand how to use it correctly, or couldn’t care less one way or the other. At the same time, we’ve reached a curious juxtaposition in our social and cultural development.

On one hand, people spend endless hours every week inanely swiping through photos of other people’s food, drink and travels and reading statements from ‘friends’, some of whom they barely know, about what they’re doing or where they are.

On the other hand, everyone’s allegedly so hyper-busy, with decreasing attention spans pitted against a compulsion to constantly broadcast where they are, where they’re going or where they’ve been, that they not only eschew the use of complete words, they now avoid using two words (or even two syllables) if there’s a chance to combine them into one—however nonsensical the outcome may be.

Over the past decade or so, society has become obsessed with finding ways to type, read and speak with ever-increasing brevity. Result: portmanteaus are more plentiful and far sillier than ever before.

Instead of creating words that add actual value to the language or bring real benefit to those who use them, nowadays we have a humongous list of portmanteaus that revolve around superficial topics with little meaning or substance, or that were created for ‘one-time use’, or intended primarily for text messaging and social media.

In the age of the 24 hour news cycle, where everything needs to be broken down to an attention-grabbing sensationalized headline, nothing is sacred where tacky portmanteaus are concerned and they’re applied to virtually everything.

Celebrity couples have been reduced to portmanteaus: Bennifer, Brangelina and TomKat; the entertainment industry also generated the now ubiquitous infomercialadvertorial and infotainment.


The original explanation | Image source: https://en.wikisource.org

The original explanation | Image source: https://en.wikisource.org

Technology is no doubt the source of many of the 21st century’s most commonly used portmanteaus – email, internet, modem, emoticon, webinar, bit, blog, vlog, cybrarian, freeware, malware, pixel, netiquette and podcast—I wonder if anyone today even remembers that podcast was derived from iPod + broadcast? A screenager is apparently a teenager who is inordinately attached to screen-based activities (a modern portmanteau which surely could be applied to teenagers going back countless decades). A netocracy describes some kind of elite demographic within the online world—and goodness knows there have always been enough of those within virtually every online community. Meanwhile, pharming and phishing have their etymology in a term coined during the 1970s which referred to much the same thing, involving telecom technologies of the day.

Some portmanteaus serve to simplify a concept, like many of the technology-sourced word blends. Others seem to exist solely to remove additional syllables and save a matter of seconds when speaking or writing. Still others are just nonsense words that are born of laziness and serving little purpose.

For example, any kid of an age between childhood and adolescence is a tween—although where exactly the line is drawn between child, tween and teenager has never been clearly defined, meaning that tween can never provide absolute clarity in any context.

Chillax is a favourite way for the cool kids of all ages to describe the act of chilling out or relaxing—it’s not clear in what way ‘chill out’ or ‘relax’ were felt to be lacking as they were but, some time in the not-too-distant past, someone obviously felt our language would benefit from morphing the two words into one word of identical syllabic construct.

And as heterosexual city-dwelling men became narcissistically concerned with their appearance in increasing numbers, so we were blessed with the metrosexual—while it’s meaning is broadly understood, it’s hardly a concept that needed a definition, much less a nonsense tag attached to it.

Brexit is just the latest in a long line of nonsense tags. Despite its limited application, in that it applies only to last week’s UK referendum and related activities, every time it’s used it’s almost invariably accompanied by the broader description of the British exit from the European Union. Like a pointless acronym that always needs to be followed by the words from which it derives just to ensure that it’s understood, so any portmanteau that requires the broader context of the word to be discussed every time the word itself is used effectively serves no purpose.

“But hang on!”, I hear you cry, harking back to the first line of this post. “I never heard anyone refer to the September 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum as Scexit!”. Well, maybe you didn’t. And maybe they didn’t. But why not, I wonder? How come the brains behind Brexit never thought of Scexit first? Maybe they should’ve called it Scinderendum? That’s a portmanteau too, and it would’ve worked just as well (and is certainly just as silly) as Brexit.

The English language is littered with portmanteaus. I have nothing against them—good, strong portmanteaus that serves a purpose and bring some efficiency to the written or spoken word can be a wonderful thing.

But Brexit? You gotta be fkidding!

Drunk People Are Really Annoying

There – I’ve said it! Anyone surprised? I’m guessing not. Of all the things I might’ve been expected to say since reuniting with sobriety 133 days ago, I imagine the only surprising thing about “drunk people are really annoying” is that it’s taken me this long to make the claim.

After all, there’s nothing like a reformed borderline-functioning alcoholic getting all sanctimonious and preachy.

Last night, I headed out to the Hordern Pavilion with about 5,000 other tragics, breathless with anticipation for Boy George & Culture Club’s first Sydney show in 16 years.

As nights out go, it was a match made in heaven: I’ve loved Culture Club since I was 11 and the Hordern Pavilion is among my favourite live performance venues… or is it? It only just occurred to me that every other time I’ve been there either I’ve already been well on my way to being stonkingly drunk, or I’ve been buzzing from the high of just having played the Hordern stage myself. Last night was the first time I’ve ever been there while in full command of my faculties (such that they are). What could this mean for the old hall’s place in my affections, I wonder?

So, that’s now three sober gigs down and I’m still noticing – and loving – that this whole ‘being present’ thing makes for a completely different experience.

I’m actually watching the shows. I’m taking in every aspect of the stage with clearer eyes. My appreciation of every single element of the performance and the musicality is off the scale compared to before. I’m listening to the artists speak and hearing what they have to say with different ears. And better still, I have a clarity of recollection that I’ve never consciously experienced before. The differences are, truly, quite breathtaking when I think about it.

I also woke up this morning curiously free of the former staples of my morning-after-gig experience: no headache, no mystery injuries, no nausea, only my existing vision impairment and in full voice.

concert-smartphoneAlso, my phone wasn’t full to its storage capacity with thousands of poor quality photos and hours of grainy video footage that I’ll never look at again. Wonders will never cease.

But what of my fellow punters? The good and the great (and the rest) of Culture Club fandom? What can I say about them without being utterly insulting? Not much, probably. I may have been 19 weeks without the influence of the devil’s brew, but I’ve never claimed that I’m becoming a nicer person for it*.

For starters, never in my life have I seen so many appallingly drunk 40- and 50-something-year-old women in one place. Falling down stairs, streamers of toilet paper trailing from shoes and tucked into slacks and frocks, trails of vomit leading to the ladies bathroom, black eyes, cat fights and fisticuffs – and I thought today’s young folk were as bad as it got! Not even close, apparently – and it’s now clear who they learned it from.

Some further observations from my evening of culture, starting with the original:

  • drunk people are really annoying;
  • drunk people shout a lot;
  • drunk queens scream a lot and become increasingly camp and catty, bitchy and offensive towards everyone and everything every time they open their mouths;
  • drunk people are really unrhythmic – particularly when they’re trying to be rhythmic. Is it because standing still is so difficult that they think bouncing from side to side is a better option? And then they try to coördinate it with clapping, or singing, or drinking beer out of the plastic cup that’s somewhere in front of them (or down the back of the other drunk person who just fell into them)… oh dear;
  • funny-drunk-people-dance-picturesdrunk 40-something-year-old ladies who go to gigs with their equally drunk girlfriends of a similar age:
    • a) spend more time mouthing – or, worse, badly singing – the words to each other than they do watching the artist who’s actually performing the songs right there on the stage in front of them;
    • b) all have exactly the same moves: 1) the hand (generally the right) in the air with index finger extended; 2) the fingers-across-the-eyes thing every time the words “see”, “look”, “watch” or “eyes” crop up; 3) the “no no no” naughty fingers (typically one hand, but occasionally both for emphasis) whenever words like “no”, “not” or “never” are used in a vaguely defiant way; 4) pointing at themselves and each other (or anyone else in the vicinity) each time they mouth the words “I”, “you”, “me”, “yours” or “mine”;
  • drunk people – especially short ones – have no qualms about blocking the view of others by shoving their phones up in the air to film what they presumably can’t see properly from their own vertically challenged vantage point. And quite right too. I’ve had a largely unobstructed view all night, why should I complain? Pfft!;
  • drunk people are obsessed with photographing and filming at concerts. They spend more time turning their cameras on and off and monitoring to ensure they’re actually capturing something than they do just watching the Ultra-HD 3D display that’s happening right there in front of them. At one point last night, there were so many phones obstructing my view that, for a few minutes at least, the only way I could see the on-stage proceedings was through their screens. What’s not to love about that?;
  • after the initial excitement-laden surge forward, as the set progressed I was shocked to realise that drunk people actually move away from the stage. They’re no doubt unaware of their rearwards migration, but I can certainly attest to a south-easterly shift away from our on-stage idol last night. No one else seemed to notice or care. I’d love to see time-lapse footage from above: hoards of drunken concertgoers shuffling around like landmasses pulling away from an ancient super-continent;
  • young folk today have more money than they know what to do with. Example: the 20-something couple standing next to me who literally jumped for joy when Boy George introduced Culture Club’s two Australian #1 hits, Do You Really Want To Hurt Me and Karma Chameleon, filming each song from start to finish and then working some unfathomable jiggery-pokery to send each video hurtling off into the ether somewhere. “They’re posted!”, said he, beaming as if he could just about pop with excitement. “oh em gee, yay!”, said she, doing a little clapping happy dance on the spot. Yet both of them seemed utterly oblivious to every single other song in the set. If they won the tickets, I could maybe understand it, but even I questioned whether the price of a VIP stagefront ticket was excessive – and I knew all the songs and remembered them from when they were new! Or is that just how young folk roll these days – have money, will spend?

But I think the greatest revelation for me last night was that drunk people just don’t know (or remember) how good they’ve got it. For four hours, I variously stood, paced or cycled my too-cool-for-school restrained sober bouncing from left knee, to right knee, to both knees. Four hours on a cement slab. By the end, I’d just about hit the wall as pain thresholds go and I knew that, if I didn’t sit down soon, either my aching feet, my aching knees or my aching back would very shortly give up the ghost. Happily, it was at that point that I also recalled the ‘slippery slope’ comment a friend made in the lead-up to my fortieth birthday two years ago and I suddenly felt quite old. Oddly enough, I was never troubled by these discomforts – or that thought – while drunk. Funny, that.

I want to believe I was never like any of what I’ve just observed. To my shame, I know with almost 100% certainty that I must’ve been – frequently. For example, I’m pretty sure I didn’t get picked up off the floor by the scruff of the neck and chucked out of Kinsela’s by a lesbian bouncer in 1997 for no reason. Maybe I should just drop the pretence and get back on it – what’s the worst that can happen? On the other hand, there’s still so much fun to be had with equal measures of sobriety, faux-piousness and sarcasm.

The-Hordern-Pavilion-970x260As for the Hordern being a favourite live venue – upon further consideration, not so much. I think I love the history of the place, more than anything else. As a performance space with a capacity of five thousand people, it doesn’t have enough points of entry and egress, its bar area isn’t nearly large enough for the hoards of punters lined up there between sets, the around-the-block queue to get in was just absurd and it took nearly 40 minutes to escape from the multi-story car park. Combine all of this with the fact that, as with many Sydney venues, options for getting there via public transport are woeful at best and it’s fair to say that the sober experience of the Hordern Pavilion was an eye-opening one on multiple levels.

There’s really only one outcome of the evening that didn’t entirely surprise me: drunk people are really annoying.


* OK, yes Fiona, I know I did actually make that claim last night, but if you don’t recall the conversation there’s no proof.