I have a very vivid memory of something that happened during the summer camp in my third year of scouting and that often pops back up when the centigrades reach the upper echelons of the thermometer and I’m caught in the middle of it. The sun was blazing down on our tents, peppering down on those helpless green tarps. These tents were usually poorly situated in the middle of some wide-open, cowdung-filled, bee-infested field. At noon, when the sun radiated heat that would have sent Pharaohs weeping, we holed up in the tepid shade that the tent provided, focusing ourselves on directing all our of remaining, unevaporated bodily fluids to our brain, biting down and trying not to pass out from the heat.(slightly exaggerated for dramatic narrative purposes). The entire camp came to a stop and a mandatory siesta hour-long was instored.
There isn’t a whole lot to do during that hour, and there were no smartphones, no Spotify or Netflix to be distracted by. Only the sweaty buzzing of flies landing incessantly on your bare feet to simultaneously entertain and annoy you. As such, you basically had two options : reading the same comic books you’d already have read about 3 times at that point , or packing and unpacking your stuff to rearrange your very limited living space not unlike the ones found in space shuttles. As I had already read every comic book at least half a dozen times, I decided to unpack and repack my stuff when I stumbled upon some contraband carefully hidden away in the depths of my backpack, which I had completely forgotten about in the animosity of daily camp life.
I elbowed Matthieu (commonly known as Racoens or Calcoens these days) who was melting next to me in an adjacent bunk, to wake him from his drowsiness to witness the frankenstein creation that had emerged from the backpack. What had once been a pack of small, cute, happy-faced individual gummibears had now been transformed by the relentless heatwave which we had been privy to the last few days, into something worthy of a good horror movie. All of the gummibears had melted into one frankensteinesque, conglomerate of candy. It was one big beautiful, 2 pound, colorful and vomit-inducing piece of candy. Little half-melted faces were still recognizable in the incongruent sugary blob, reminiscent of that scene in Aliens. If those gummibears had possessed the power of speech, they would surely all have been mumbling ‘kill me’ with their last, melting, dying breath.
I imagine that polyglotism has the same effect on the average, underachieving, lazy mind like mine. That blob of candy might be a very visually accurate representation of grammar and vocabulary in the mind at that moment. Everything just melts together. There are just too many words in too many different languages that mean the same thing, and when you call upon one of those variations, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack. There’s a million shiny golden straws that look alike but mean different things, so you just kinda pick two and combine them.
One of the biggest problems that comes up when you polyglotism with an under-average brain capacity is the natural tendency to overuse portmanteau-words. This obviously stems from cognitive failure incited by laziness.
Yes, portmanteau. A ‘portmanteau word’ is a word created by mixing and matching two existing words. A linguistical cocktail of existing words, with the resulting word not actually being a real, covenanted word but some grammatical monstrosity ‘that kinda sounded good in your brain‘.
I have an exceptional ability to make myself sound like a buffoon, because I am very prone to perpetrating this grammatical crime on an almost daily basis.
I even do it at advanced level -if you can call it that- because I mix and match words from different languages, into one, seemingly correct (but oh so wrong) word.
Perhaps the most well-known portmanteau these days is ‘Brexit’. Or as New Yorkers answer, ‘Something related to breakfast?‘ when asked about what the word ‘Brexit’ meant, by The Guardian. I’m not going to go into the whole debate of ‘Do they really have no idea what its about?’ and I’m just going to go ahead and enjoy the hilarious nature of their responses. Aaah, how hilarious the human can be.
Back to portmanteauing (another post will cover making up conjugations, don’t worry). This affliction pops its ugly head up from time to time, often at the worst possible moments. In January I popped in a plane for a weekend in Milan, and despite the fact that I had rehearsed saying the name of where I was going beforehand in order to be able to pronounce it to the airport cabbie with what one could call ‘fluency’, evidently disaster struck the moment I had to actually utter the complete sentence. I wanted to say it with a mandatory added dose of what the Italians call ‘Sprezzatura’. Sprezzatura could best be defined as a dose of healthy nonchalance, the type one would normally get from e.g. saying that particular sentence very often (not the case) . I was going to an address called Piazzale Bacone , but upon entering the taxi I blurted something out along the lines of ‘Andiamo a Pizza Bacon’ instead of the rehearsed Vi prego di prendere per Piazzale Bacone. Needless to say, the cabbie gave me a look that made me feel so bad I reviewed my last three life choices instantly. In one swift sentence I had managed to make myself look like a complete moron , insult the whole Italian language, slandered Sir Francis Bacon (who the square is actually named after) and discredited any belief of seriousness the cabbie might have had in me. Italian is best left to the Italians, I’ll stick to the rest for now, lesson learned and ego destroyed. Excellent.
If you’ve been paying attention (I’m not expecting it from anyone, don’t worry) you might even have noticed that the title of this blog is a portmanteau in itself, as I couldn’t decide what would be the dominant subject of this blog : ranting or thinking. Or thinking about ranting. Or ranting about thinking. So, in line with everything else that seems to be going on in my life, I settled in the middle and split it in half. It’s a good way or only having half-regrets, but it also only begets you half-satisfaction. Ah, well.
I must say however, in defense of myself, that my mom often reminds me of the best portmanteau I’ve ever made, and I do agree with her regardless of the vain attitude that agreeing with yourself projects : when I was 7-ish I made up the word ‘Exabusé’, which was a mix of ‘exagéré’ and ‘abusé’, two words that mean exaggerated. Exabusé is just a sexy sounding word that deserves a spot in the Larousse, wouldn’t you agree? It also just looks right. Come on Larousse, don’t let me down.
Then again, vocabulary is all about confidence. If you’re not sure about a word, just use it and keep a straight face. Most likely, people will just go with it, and if it’s a complex word, maybe even commend you on your extensive vocabulary. Once more, keep a straight face then.