Meme hybrid alert

Although in my posting on portmanteaus I declared that I wasn’t collecting them — there are just too many, and new ones are invented every day — here’s what I think is an interesting new one, from Virginia Heffernan’s NYT Magazine piece (of August 23) “The Feminist Hawks”:

Like many conservatives, [David] Horowitz appears to have come to feminist-hawkism after 9/11. But in his hands, the ideology has fast became a tenacious memebrid — as Tim Hwang, a sociologist and the director of the Web Ecology Project, calls memes that unite two or more cultural phenomena.

“The neat marriage of hawkish tendencies and feminist framing of issues does this quite effectively,” Hwang explained to me in an e-mail message. Borrowing left-wing shibboleths is one way that “conservative ideas can make it big in a generally more liberal online social sphere,” he wrote. Furthermore, to depict Islamic regimes less as terrorists than as repressors of civil liberties may appeal even to traditional isolationists, as it “plays off of the strong communities of libertarians that dominate some prominent spaces.”

Now memebrid is a portmanteau, a kind of hybrid, but the memebrid in question, feminist hawk ‘hawk who is a feminist’, is not. Instead, it’s an instance of a different scheme for combining two words to make a new word: compounding. (The OED entry for portmanteau makes the connection between the two phenomena explicit.) A compound has a dual nature: it is a word, but it also consists of two words in sequence; it has an internal structure.

In some portmanteaus, one of the contributing words appears intact (and the other appears only in abbreviated form); this is the case for memebrid, where meme appears intact, while hybrid is shortened to -brid. But many portmanteaus — brunch, spork — have both contributing words abbreviated (br- + -unch, sp- + -ork).

Still other portmanteaus have both contributors intact, but overlapping: bromance is bro + romance, with -ro- shared (in pronunciation and in spelling); the corresponding compound would be bro romance. In fact, there’s often overlapping in portmanteaus in general: Billary is Bill + Hillary, with shared -ill-; Scalito is Scalia + Alito, with shared -ali-. (Overlapping is a property these portmanteaus have in common with one large class of inadvertent blends, called “splice blends” in the literature: originary is original + ordinary, with shared -in-.)

No overlapping in memebrid, however.

2 Responses to “Meme hybrid alert”

  1. Short shot #21: portmanteau crop « Arnold Zwicky’s Blog Says:

    […] Short shot #21: portmanteau crop By arnoldzwicky I don’t collect all the  examples of portmanteau words that come past me, but I do try to note ones that strike me as having special interest (general discussion, with some examples, here and here). […]

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

    […] 8/25/09: Meme hybrid alert (link) […]

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