Their definitions seem to blur for me, as well as compound words in general. I'm thinking it might be a "square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square" concept but I'm not certain.

Examples are also greatly appreciated.

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    Please add suitable dictionary/encyclopedia definitions, linked and attributed, or your question may be closed for lack of signs of reasonable research. Sep 23, 2020 at 15:43
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    Kennings occur in Old English. Portmanteaux are combinations where you can see the meaning of both parts; the name doesn't help, since portmanteau used to refer to a kind of bag into which one can stuff anything. Just call them all "noun compounds" if there's a space involved, or "compound nouns" if there's no space between the parts. That covers everything, and explains nothing. Sep 23, 2020 at 15:50

1 Answer 1


The words portmanteau and kenning come from different contexts and refer to different kinds of compounding. Kenning was first used in English by 19th century scholars trying to describe a feature of Old Norse and Old English poems: the use of periphrastic compound expressions instead of a simple description of a thing (OED). Here are a few examples that show the compounding at work (Wikipedia):

  • sea => hron-rad (whale road)
  • honor => weorðmyndum (worth of mind)
  • sun => heofen-candel (heaven-candle)

Kennings often involve some kind of creative analogy, like imagining a sea as a road for whales, or the sun as a candle in the sky. Introductory literature courses often introduce kennings as a feature of Old English; if someone is talking about English in general, they are more likely to talk about a compound of some kind, like the noun compound "seat belt".

Portmanteau in English has referred to a specific kind of bag since the 16th century (OED). In the 19th century, Lewis Carroll adapted the term to refer to a word blending representative sounds from two or more words (CJR):

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.

So portmanteau don't just put two words together into a compound, but delete parts of the word to more fully blend them. So it's not smoke-fog but smog; it's not brother-romance but bromance.

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