Portmansnow words

Wretched winter weather has been afflicting large areas of the northern half of the U.S. One response to extreme snow has been to coin portmanteau words for these storms. So far I’ve seen:

snowtastrophe, snowpocalypse, snowmageddon

(Hat tip to Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky, who recently returned to California after a holiday in the Northeast — upstate New York, New York City, Boston — with her husband and daughter, escaping just before the weather turned really ugly.)

There’s a pattern to these inventions: snow replaces the first syllable of a multi-syllable word (referring to a dire event) which has its primary accent after the first syllable (so that this word is easily identifiable). So the sources are

snow + (ca)tástrophe, (a)pócalypse, (Ar)magéddon

(and snow has a secondary accent).

13 Responses to “Portmansnow words”

  1. Fritinancy Says:

    Anchorage: “Snowzilla Declared a Public Nuisance, Decapitated.” http://www.themudflats.net/2008/12/22/snowzilla-declared-a-public-nuisance-decapitated/

  2. Gary Says:

    The whimsical British blogger desbladet hs been chronicling the occurrence of the word snökaos in Scandivanian newspapers for at least 5 years now.

    Unfortunately his blog at
    is not searchable as far as I can tell.

    He moved to the Netherlands 2 years ago, so now he documents the word in Dutch papers too.

  3. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To Gary: and in German too (“Schneekaos”). But none of these are portmanteaus. They’re just noun-noun compounds (meaning ‘chaos having to do with snow’), which as is customary in these languages are written as single words. Plenty of hits for “snow chaos” in English (which is parallel to “snow catastrophe”).

  4. Manecdotes and brobituaries « Arnold Zwicky’s Blog Says:

    […] By arnoldzwicky Having stumbled into the world of playful portmanteau formation via several portmansnow words, I was reminded of quotes from and references to Daniel Maurer’s recent book Brocabulary. […]

  5. Inventory of portmanteau postings « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] AZBlog, 12/22/08: Portmansnow words (link) […]

  6. -pocalypse « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] of snowpocalypse (among the portmansnow words I reported on here and here; discussion by Jan Freeman here; and by many […]

  7. More libfix inventory « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] of which have final elements that seem to have been liberated: AZBlog, 12/22/08: Portmansnow words (link): portmanteaus snowtastrophe [-tastrophe not in Quinion], snowpocalypse, […]

  8. More -((m)a)geddon « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] on this blog: snowmageddon along with other portmansnow words, here; carmageddon, here; and carmageddon, karmageddon, and courtmageddon, […]

  9. -mageddons and -pocalypses « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] there were the heavy snows, prompting cries of snowmageddon and snowpocalypse (and more) — portmansnow words. Then came the closing of I-405 in Los Angeles a little while back, yielding the words Carmageddon […]

  10. A topical -mageddon « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] the libfix -pocalypse and related portmanteaus. A sampling: AZBlog, 12/22/08: Portmansnow words (link): portmanteaus snowtastrophe, snowpocalypse, […]

  11. The upcoming storm « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Portmansnow words (link): snowtastrophe, snowpocalypse, snowmageddon, […]

  12. Run! It’s a #snowcanado! | The Kicker Says:

    […] These are two words with disparate meanings that have been mashed together in some new way. (Tip o’ the snowcap to Stanford linguist Arnold Zwicky.) They certainly sound impressive […]

  13. Weather Forecast: How People Are Talking About the Blizzard Says:

    […] hearing this duo of “portmansnows”—as Stanford University linguist Arnold Zwicky dubbed them—but they have been around for at least a decade. And they may finally have reached a point of […]

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