Is there a term for words like Snowmageddon, Nipplegate and even cheeseburger?

I know they're portmanteaus (or portmanteaux), but they seem to belong to a special class of portmanteau.

In the title examples, Armageddon, Watergate and hamburger seem to be the "mother" terms respectively (more so than snow, nipple, and cheese), and the derived terms Snowmageddon, Nipplegate and cheeseburger seem to be child terms in the sense that each clearly alludes to its mother term and could conceivably have sibling terms like Floodmageddon, Lewinskygate, and chiliburger.

Actually, the more I thought about examples of this phenomenon, the more I came up with examples that fit the description but weren't strictly portmanteaus. One might be "Rat Pack", which gets referenced by "Brat Pack" and "Frat Pack". Idk, maybe I'm getting too inclusive.

Is anyone familiar with a term for this or has seen a list of them? I love lists.

  • More than once I've used the Brad Pack to mean the type of actors I (idiosyncratically, no doubt) associate with Brad Pitt (including Matt Damon, Nic Cage, Ben Afleck, and others). It seems to me that pack in that context is no different to geddon, gate, burger. You keep one element from an established idiom (without which your new coinage probably wouldn't make sense at all), and you change the other bits to match your new intended sense. Commented Jan 18, 2014 at 14:52
  • The first time a child had a terrible sneeze just after they’d taken a bite of steaming-hot pizza was the event that gave birth to the cheesebooger.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 18, 2014 at 15:35
  • @JackRyan Concatenate comes from con + catena: with a chain. Hence the correct spelling.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 18, 2014 at 17:20
  • @tchrist [You caught me.] Concatenate + catastrophe = "concatastrophe" (to link together words; that cause a tragic event and suffering) –
    – Jack Ryan
    Commented Jan 18, 2014 at 17:23
  • 1
    I can't believe this isn't already linked: xkcd.com/739
    – cobaltduck
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 13:37

3 Answers 3


This sort of portmanteau is closely related to the phrasal templates called snowclones:

Snowclone is a neologism for a type of cliché and phrasal template originally defined as “a multi-use, customizable, instantly recognizable, time-worn, quoted or misquoted phrase or sentence that can be used in an entirely open array of different variants.”

An example of a snowclone is the phrase “grey is the new black,” which gave rise to the template “X is the new Y.” X and Y may be replaced with different words or phrases—for example, “comedy is the new rock ’n’ roll.”

You could probably call such a word a snowclone and be understood, although if you want to emphasize that it's a single word, you could call it a “snowclone word” or “snowclone portmanteau.”

  • Snowclones are a new concept to me, and I'm excited that there's a term for that phenomenon. Xmageddon and Xburger (notation learned from the Snowclones Database) could be quasi-snowclones. They do fit the loose definition of snowclones, but since they aren't phrases in the conventional sense, they give pause. Said Database even actually felt the need to write an entire piece, albeit interesting, seemingly on the realization that morphemes could be snowcloned.
    – trejajo
    Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 0:59
  • Having said that, this one is a really good option.
    – trejajo
    Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 1:04
  • Even though I really love the examples and concepts expressed in J.R.'s answer, this one gave me a term that I think best conveys the phenomenon I was looking for. Kudos Bradd!
    – trejajo
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 3:16

I don't know if this is quite the term you're looking for, but you could refer to such clever wordplays as abstractions.

Etymonline says, under its entry for -gate:

-gate: suffix attached to any word to indicate "scandal involving," 1973, abstracted from Watergate...

I wondered if that was a one-time mention of the term abstraction, or if it was used at other places on the site, and I found similar phrasing under entries such as -aholic, -rama, -fest, -athon, slimnastics and yes, even cheeseburger:

-oholic: word-forming element abstracted from alcoholic; first in sugarholic (1965), foodoholic (sic., 1965); later in workaholic (1968), golfaholic (1971), chocoholic (1971), and shopaholic (1984).

-rama: noun suffix meaning "sight, view, spectacular display or instance of," 1824, abstracted from panorama (q.v.), ultimately from Greek horama "sight, spectacle, that which is seen."

-athon: word-forming element denoting prolonged activity and usually some measure of endurance, abstracted from marathon. E.g. walkathon (1931), skatathon (1933); talkathon (1948); telethon (1949).

slimnastics (n.) 1967 (with an isolated use from 1959), from slim (adj.) + ending abstracted from gymnastics.

cheeseburger (n.) 1938, American English, from cheese (n.1) + ending abstracted from hamburger.

This won't give you a complete list, you can peruse more abstractions from the website here.

  • 2
    I'm upvoting this because I like the idea of calling "productive" elements like -gate, -oholic, -fest, -burger, etc., "abstractions". Of course, that doesn't actually answer OP's question, which we could now more succinctly paraphrase as "What do we call new coinages based on established idiomatic abstractions?" But it's a start. (Anyone up for abstractionisms? :) Commented Jan 18, 2014 at 14:42
  • The examples you list are is spot on with the phenomenon that I'm asking about. Thanks for the brief list. I love lists. :)
    – trejajo
    Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 1:26
  • After perusing the Wikipedia article, I do worry that the established concept of abstraction is too broad for the specific phenomenon that we're discussing. Our ideal term definitely lies neatly somewhere within the realm of abstraction, but I'm starting to like snowclones more and more because it is specifically defined by the fact that you have a template that is, dare I say ... abstracted ... from an original construct - it just so happens that the original construct is typically a phrase, not a word.
    – trejajo
    Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 2:03
  • The discovery of the term "abstraction" for me though has not been demoted in usefulness though, because, as you suggest, I can now search for "abstracted from" words on the Online Etymology Dictionary, which is great! "Snowclone" seems to be much less likely to appear in official reference sources to any significant degree.
    – trejajo
    Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 2:20
  • @trejajo - One of the signs of a well-formed question, in my opinion, is that it's not easy to find a definitive answer. Nice question :^)
    – J.R.
    Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 7:09

I found a list of -gates on Wikipedia (with a bonus sketch on YouTube).

That Wikipedia article also references a short text, Yet more on -gate words. It doesn't mention a term, but I suppose "-gate words" works for that particular class.

If I were to try to come up with a term for how the suffix acts, I'd perhaps go with productive suffix. Which I then googled and found on Wiktionary. That list includes "-punk" (e.g. "steampunk"), but not any of your examples.

Googling further from my findings, I came across a Wiktionary entry for burger which calls the "-burger" suffix a back-formation (list). They're referrering to the suffix, but a comment considers "cheeseburger" a back-formation also. A book calls it backformation without the hyphen.

This text on word formation uses the term blending for "cheeseburger" and other words that are not joined along morpheme edges (assuming this one is "cheese" + "hamburger"), and it says the word "burger" is formed by clipping.

Long story short, I think I'd go with back-formation :)

  • I really like this answer because it took me on a journey of learning about productive suffixes and back-formations. "-burger", "-gate" and the others could indeed serve as suffixes, but they're more than that - I'm looking for a term that conveys the fact that they refer to some original word.
    – trejajo
    Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 0:29

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