I've heard people use phrases like "Google-Fu" when they are trying to combine the ideas of their google skills with a martial art like Kung Fu. e.g. someone might say "my Google-Fu is not that good", when asked to look something up. How would one describe the meaning of these types of word combinations to someone else, in an abbreviated way? Is there a word to describe this kind of pattern?

EDIT: it is not clear to me that these kind of words exactly fit the definition of either portmanteau or snowclone


5 Answers 5


These kinds of words are commonly lumped together with all new formulations as neologisms.

Their meaning, in the case of the combinatory neologism, is fundamentally metaphorical: it asks us to understand one thing in the context of another. For example, the word "Google-Fu" asks us to consider one's ability to effectively utilize the Google Search Engine as though it were a martial art, a perhaps more easily understood physical skillset honed over years of practice with connotations of flexibility, finesse, and power.

Because of this metaphorical component, it is also possible to describe these combinatory neologisms as kennings. This is a very old concept in the English language's deep past, deriving from the poetic sensibilities of its Anglo-Saxon speakers - kenning is a metaphorical combination of two concepts for the purpose of emphasizing certain characteristics about what they describe. The stereotypical kenning trotted out from Beowulf would be to describe the sea as a "whale-road" - emphasizing the greatness and alienation of the ocean - it is a large place fit for monsters to travel through, not so much puny hominids in rickety wooden vessels. I personally like to describe Stack Exchange as a wizardry-machine.

  • for reference - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neologism
    – user96551
    Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 17:48
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    Your word-fu is better than mine. Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 18:14
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    @DonBranson now if only I could convince publishers of that...
    – Adam Wykes
    Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 18:16
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    Heh. When you, do, recommend my novel to them. :) Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 18:18
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    Sure it's a neologism. Any "new word" is a neologism. the OP is quite obviously asking about the case where you swap part of the word. It has absolutely n connection to "combinations". It's simply (humorously, let's say) swapping one part for another part. Ferrari becomes Fur-ari, airplane becomes hair-plane, etc, or the examples given by the OP.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jul 16, 2016 at 17:02

I've never even been to this end of SE but as I'm here I'll drop in the rather more obvious and probably equally improper portmanteau and be off.

(also portmanteau word) A word blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others, for example motel or brunch

[Oxford Online Dictionary]

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    Hello, NikLP. Your answer was flagged automatically as low-quality for its length and content. I edited your post and please take a look. We encourage an answer with a dictionary definition and proper reference.
    – user140086
    Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 17:22
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    Well thank you kindly. I actually enjoyed the other answers more, but if this one's getting traction, that works nicely for the fragile part of my ego.
    – NikLP
    Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 21:07
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    I'm not sure it's a portmanteau. Blending breakfast and lunch to make brunch, is totally different from the common and obvious thing the OP asks about (swapping one part humorously to something else .. sophomore becomes sopho-bore, etc.)
    – Fattie
    Commented Jul 16, 2016 at 17:05
  • @JoeBlow Agreed, a portmanteau would be something like "My GooFu is the real deal"
    – xyz
    Commented Jul 17, 2016 at 4:41
  • @JoeBlow, you are correct: The individual "parts" of a portmanteau more often do not correspond to any morphological segments and are instead typically done on a phonological level (cf. Bennifer, Brangelina or Brexit). Instead, in this case, -fu acts as a derivational suffix. Commented Jul 17, 2016 at 12:25

A blend:

  • (Linguistics) A word produced by combining parts of other words, as smog from smoke and fog.


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    I don't see it as a blend, Josh. It's taking an existing word, and, swapping part of that word. (Example "Josh" becomes "B-osh", "Super-Osh" or the like.)
    – Fattie
    Commented Jul 16, 2016 at 16:59

It’s just a coinage, like any other coined phrase. The fact of it being IMHO a particularly clever one doesn’t merit a separate term for it.

Coinage” per OED:

  1. The invention of a new word or phrase.

    Example sentences:

    • His learned coinage of the phrase fides levata – a convincing but altogether fictional Latin term – would contribute to the overwhelming success of Panofsky's account.
    • Gould has written many times about his coinage of the term ‘symphonette.’
    • Not only is the phrase versus populum of very late coinage; it does not mean what its champions claim it does.

Though the very short definition seems somewhat overbroad in this case, I believe the provided examples show ‘coinage’ (or, perhaps more properly, ‘coined phrase’, although this seems overly pedantic to me) to be the proper term.

N.B. My source for the OED definition, http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/pun, incorrectly uses hyphens in the first sample sentence instead of em dashes. I have corrected this here.


This is a specific case of morphological derivation whereby -fu (obviously originally from the loanword kung-fu) has been interpreted in (contemporary) English as a suffix denoting the meaning roughly "ability/competence in doing something", e.g.

  • Google-fu → "ability to Google (well)"
  • repair-fu → "ability to repair (well)"

As you can see here, the suffix is fully productive, i.e. it is able to form nonce words (e.g. StackExchange-fu), some of which may become established words in English as it is broadly spoken.

Analogy: -(d)ar

An analogous example of this phenomenon can be seen in the suffix -(d)ar, which originated from radar and — probably with help from the word sonar, which has a very similar meaning in addition to sounding similar — became productive in meaning something like "ability to detect something": The most common example of its productivity is gaydar, but the form is fully-productive due to the fact that e.g. sarcasmdar and morphemedar are perfectly acceptable as English words.

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    How do you get from fu to competence?
    – Adam Wykes
    Commented Jul 17, 2016 at 14:49
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    Probably through this guy, but I honestly don't know... I only know that it works. Commented Jul 17, 2016 at 19:23
  • Yeah, but really I think if you took my question seriously you might learn something, or I might.
    – Adam Wykes
    Commented Jul 17, 2016 at 21:01
  • I'm guessing it's because martial arts take more effort and practice to achieve results with. e.g. if we try the reverse, e.g. imagine describing a level of competence in the martial art by comparing with the ability to do online search, Kung Google for example (or even Google-Fu as well)... that so bad it's humorous. I think it rests on the perception of Googling being vastly easier to master than Kung-Fu Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 13:40

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