Oxford Dictionaries define a portmanteau as

A word blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others, for example motel or brunch.

I've also heard the term apply to three- and four-word combinations, but I'm not sure if it's correct. For my blog, I wanted to describe the Latin word obstaculum, which is a combination of three Latin terms, and while I could use combination or portmanteau without anyone noticing, I began wondering if there are any terms that specifically describe three- or four- word mergers (in that the word is exclusive to the number). I also wanted to know if a portmanteau can correctly be applied if used for more than two words.

Any help?

  • 5
    Wikipedia describes the word Satanarchaeolidealcohellish (from a children's book by Michael Ende) as a portmanteau of the words Satan, anarchy, archaeology, lie, ideal, alcohol and hellish. So presumably there's no better word for three-, four- or seven-word mergers in English. Apr 2 '17 at 23:46
  • 2
    The book was translated from the German, where the Kofferwort was satanarchäolügenialkohöllisch. Apr 2 '17 at 23:50
  • 1
    Yeah, the correct term is threewordportmanteau.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 3 '17 at 0:29
  • 1
    Isn't obstaculum a core verb, modified by a prefix and turned into a noun by the addition of a suffix rather than a word made up of three individual words? Do 'ob-' and '-culum' really count as words? I appreciate you might still want to describe the fact that 'obstaculum' has three parts, but can't you just say it 'has three parts' or hass a 'three-part construction'?
    – Spagirl
    Apr 3 '17 at 10:14
  • 1
    A portmanteau that refers to three words is called: portmanteau: In linguistics, a portmanteau is defined as a single morph that represents two or more morphemes. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portmanteau
    – user66974
    Apr 5 '17 at 6:18

I can't seem to find a word for a three-part portmanteau; I kind of doubt it exists. But I think you could use a phrase like tripartite portmanteau, which I think would make sense to most people. Or slap a prefix on, such as tri-portmanteau, but I think that could be confusing.

And all this makes me think, maybe the best phrase is simply three-part portmanteau.

  • That's the best I can do, I suppose... not exactly what I wanted, but I don't want to waste the bounty Apr 11 '17 at 21:23
  • yeah, not exactly a satisfying answer. but even if the word existed, nobody has ever heard of it, and you'd end up having to explain it anyway.
    – user83454
    Apr 11 '17 at 22:11
  • excellent point; that deserves the bounty in itself! Apr 11 '17 at 23:18

Wikipedia defines a portmanteau as:

a single morph that represents two or more morphemes

So perhaps the word you are looking for is portmanteau.

Assuming this is not the answer you want, we need to look further afield, and perhaps invent a new word to cover this gap in the English language.

Here is my proposal:

We can see from the Wikipedia article that portmanteaux are popular in lots of languages. The one that caught my eye was Indonesia, and the mega city:


This mega city is defined as Jakarta and its suburbs, namely:

  • Jakarta
  • Bogor
  • Depok
  • Tangerang
  • Bekasi

So I looked up the meaning of mega:

(originally) Very large, great. Denoting a size larger than usual.

amongst others.

It is derived from the Ancient Greek 'μέγας' (mégas, “great, large, mighty”), and as such I feel it would make an excellent prefix.

I originally came up with megaportmanteau, but I think:


is the word we are looking for.

  • Except that word is a novel coining and no one will know what it means until you define it for them, every time you use it. It's a little misleading to say "X is the word we're looking for", implying we found it, when we actually invented it on the spot to meet the specific purpose.
    – Dan Bron
    Apr 8 '17 at 12:04
  • While I kind of agree with Dan Bron's comment, personally, I think the word sounds good to use as is :D. Apr 10 '17 at 11:52
  • 1
    just because we're talking about made-up words doesn't mean we should make up words to define made-up words.
    – user83454
    Apr 10 '17 at 19:57

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