Have you heard about Barbenheimer? The films Barbie and Oppenheimer open the same day, July 21. Barbie is the first live-action movie based on the Mattel doll, crafted as a comedy-fantasy/journey of self-discovery. Oppenheimer is a dramatic biopic from director Christopher Nolan about the development of the first nuclear bomb during World War II, via the Manhattan Project headed by J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Barbie and Oppenheimer couldn’t be more different in substance and tone. Yet the simultaneous releases have created the cross-promotional Barbenheimer phenomenon, featuring tons of memes, unofficial t-shirts and mock movie posters.

It has also spurred sales.

In the U.S., AMC Theaters reported that more than 20,000 customers bought advance tickets to showings of both films on the same day. In Canada, Cineplex says 65% of the people who’ve already bought tickets for both films plan to make it a double feature. The director and star of Barbie, Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie, even posted a photo of them holding Oppenheimer tickets.

Both movies intrigue me, but as a word nerd I like Barbenheimer for another reason. It is what’s called a portmanteau – a blending of the letters, sounds and meanings of two or more words into a new made-up word.

I’ve already used two here: biopic (biography and picture) and Cineplex (cinema and complex). Brunch is a portmanteau (breakfast and lunch). So is motel (motor and hotel), smog (smoke and fog) and anklet (ankle and bracelet). And guesstimate (guess and estimate), hangry (hungry and angry) and frenemy (friend and enemy). And transponder (transmitter and responder), email (electronic and mail) and staycation (stay and vacation).

There are portmanteau dog breeds like the labradoodle (labrador and poodle). Foods like the cronut (croissant and donut). Articles of clothing like the jegging (jeans and leggings). And even a few portmanteau countries like Tanzania (Tanganyika and Zanzibar) and the former Czechoslovakia (Czechia and Slovakia).

The worlds of communications, marketing and media are filled with portmanteau examples. Like advertorial (advertising and editorial), podcast (iPod and broadcast), telemarketing (telephone and marketing), listicle (list and article), fanzine (fan and magazine) and infomercial (information and commercial).

Film and TV genres, in addition to the biopic, include the docudrama (documentary and drama), mockumentary (mock and documentary), sitcom (situation and comedy), rom com (romance and comedy) and dramedy (drama and comedy).

Numerous corporate and brand names are also portmanteau mashups: Spotify (spot and identify), Groupon (group and coupon), Yelp (Yellow Pages and help), Travelocity (travel and velocity), Pinterest (pin and interest), Instagram (instant and telegram), Microsoft (microcomputer and software), Paralympics (parallel and Olympics), Intel (integrated and electronics) and Verizon (veritas and horizon).

This usage of portmanteau is credited to Lewis Carroll, a fan of wordplay and author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. The latter included this passage, spoken by Humpty Dumpty to Alice: “Well, ‘slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy.’ ‘Lithe’ is the same as ‘active.’ You see it’s like a portmanteau – there are two meanings packed up into one word.”

That’s a reference to the French word portmanteau, which describes a two-part suitcase and combines the words porte (to carry) and manteau (cloak).

So here’s a blog (web and log) in tribute. And if you’re headed to Barbenheimer (combined running time: 295 minutes), in the spirit of the portmanteau have a fantabulous, funtastic time.

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxmanconnect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at foxmancommunications.com. I would love to hear from you. More original posts coming regularly about communications, information, motivation, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, learning, etc.

July 19, 2023


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