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Power-Packed Word Blends: 
A Rating Scale for Name Mashups

by Marcia Yudkin, Head Stork, Named At Last

"Why snackrifice?"

This headline appears on the back of a box of Triscuits (textured wheat crackers). Although it uses a word that isnt in the dictionary, the instant you say the word to yourself, you understand its meaning. A "snackrifice" would involve forgoing the delicious snacks you enjoy, because of health, cost or other concerns.

This kind of word blend shows up occasionally in product, company and event names, as well as in labels for political groupings and demographic trends. 

In the winter of 2011, people in the U.S. mid-Atlantic states were talking about a massive blizzard as Snowmageddon also called a "snowtastrophe" and "snowpocalypse." 

This type of verbal invention goes back at least to Lewis Carroll, whose character Humpty Dumpty explains a poem called "Jabberwocky" to Alice in Chapter 6 of "Through the Looking Glass." 

"Well, slithy means lithe and slimy, " Humpty Dumpty expounds. "You see, its like a portmanteau there are two meanings packed up into one word." 

Some more recent, relatively established examples of blended words are Bollywood (Bombay + Hollywood), brunch (breakfast + lunch), smog (smoke + fog) and prequel (pre + sequel).

What makes an invention like this effective? Here is a five-point scoring system that separates the winners from the weaklings. 

My Five-Point Rating Scale for Word Mashups

Points 1 and 2 signify whether or not the two words being combined are recognizable out of context. If both are, give the name two points; if only one is, give it one point. Id give "prequel" two points, since no other word besides "sequel" ends in "-equel," and the intention of the "pre" twist is crystal clear. 

Id give "Bollywood" only one of two possible points here, because while "-ollywood" can evoke only "Hollywood," what the "B" stands for has to be learned. Indeed, the "B" reference is even more obscure than it once was, now that Bombay is known in the West as Mumbai. And Id give "slithy" zero points, as its derivation from "slimy" and "lithe" is quite unguessable.

For corporate word-blend names, Id give Verizon one of the two possible points, for its obvious resemblance to "horizon" and obscure reference to "veritas," the Latin word for "truth." Ditto for Accenture, where its easy to recognize the initial meaning element "accent," but difficult to figure out that "ture " comes from "future." 

The snack food Candwich similarly gets just one point because while its clear that the "-wich" comes from "sandwich," youd probably guess that "cand" refers to "candy." Only seeing a photo of the product or the product itself would you know that the first element is "can" and the product in a sandwich in a can. The product name Fruitsations gets two points here, because you most likely know immediately that the name implies "fruit" plus "sensations."

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Point 3 signifies how neatly the two words fit together. "Snackrifice" wins this point too, because "snack" rhymes perfectly with the "sac" syllable it replaces. All three snow disaster words bandied about last month lose this point, however, because "snow" does not rhyme with the "Ar" in Armageddon, the "ca" in "catastrophe" or the "a" in "apocalypse." "Slithy" again loses the point, since the "m" of "slimy" got inexplicably lost in the combination.

For point 4, evaluate whether the name has just one plausible pronunciation. Here "snackrifice" prevails again, but Verizon falls short. I distinctly remember when the company was new not knowing whether it was intended as very-zahn or very-zone. In fact, its ve-RYE-zahn, an option that didnt occur to me. 

And how about Snogurt? I thought it was unmistakably a frozen, wintery version of yogurt ("snow" plus "yogurt"), but when I used this example in a newsletter once, someone responded that "snog" is British slang for kissing, so that Snogurt could plausibly be spoken as snog-urt as well as snow-gurt. Snogurt doesnt earn this point, then.

Point 5 is admittedly subjective. It signifies whether or not a word lover gets a shiver of delight contemplating the blended name. Id give this point to "Bollywood," "Snowmageddon," "slithy" and "snackrifice," but not to "brunch," "smog," "snowtastrophe" or "snowpocalypse."

Summary of the scale:

Points 1 & 2: Are both word ingredients obvious?

Point 3: Do the word components snap together neatly?

Point 4: Is there only one likely pronunciation?

Point 5: Is the word coinage creatively delightful?

Now You Practice...

Rate the following actual business names and see if you agree with my commentary, which follows below.

  • Beenut Butter

  • Esotouric

  • Mozign

  • Slimnastics

  • Umbroller

Beenut Butter:  Did you get the play on "peanut butter"?  I got the rhyme, but didn't guess that this is a combination of honey (which comes from bees) and peanut butter.  I got stuck imagining how bees were incorporated into this product, and literally they are not.  Score: 4

Esotouric: "Esoteric" plus "tour."  Inventive, but the word "esoteric" implies something extremely specialized and obscure.  This company offers bus tours of literary and crime sites in the Los Angeles area - which is in the realm of popular culture rather than arcana.  Score: 5

Mozign: "Mobile" plus "design," supposedly.  Unrecognizable visually as a word blend, though perhaps perceivable auditorially.  Score: 1

Slimnastics: Though not an exciting coinage, the meaning is very clear: "slim" plus "gymnastics," a weight-loss exercise program.  Score: 4

Umbroller:  Once you have seen this product, you know it's a blend of "umbrella" (the shape of the handles) and "stroller."  However, if you have not seen it, it is very hard to see or hear the component "stroller" in this product name.  Its pronunciation is in question, as well.  Out of context, I'd try it as um-brawl-er and would not be sure about that.  Score: 2

Stuck on thinking up or choosing your new company or product name?  Get help generating a deliciously creative business name or product name.

Copyright 2011 Marcia Yudkin.  No reprinting or republishing without written permission.

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