Skip to main content

A bromance of 'Sharknado' and 'cronut'

By Lee Siegel, Special to CNN
July 16, 2013 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lee Siegel: It seems that a new portmanteau -- a hybrid word -- pops up every hour
  • Siegel: Words like "cronut" and "Sharknado" delight and dazzle us in their newness
  • He says familiar words are being reshuffled as our modern life quickens in its pace
  • Siegel: New hybrid words are emblematic of our culture -- a melting pot where things blend

Editor's note: Lee Siegel is author of, most recently, "Are You Serious: How to Be True and Get Real in the Age of Silly."

(CNN) -- Help me out. What's a word for feeling the pressure of a deadline but also pleasure in meeting it? I've got it -- plessure.

Nowadays, it seems that a new portmanteau -- a word that is a combination of two words -- pops up every hour or so.

You might have just met a frenemy for brunch -- a hybrid word going back decades -- where the two of you shared a cronut before distracting each other with a heated discussion of "Sharknado." Who knows? The discovery that you both experience spasms of affluenza could make for the beginning of a wonderful bromance.

Chillax, I'm not about to go on a curmudgeonly rant denouncing hybrid words. On the contrary, perhaps they herald a new phase in American verbal creativity.

Invented by French chef Dominique Ansel earlier this year, "cronuts" are a cross between croissants and doughnuts. In New York City, the pastry debuted in Ansel's Soho shop to big crowds. They were such a hit that a black market on Craigslist sprang up where one cronut can fetch as much as $40.

'Sharknado' causes Twitter twister

"Sharknado" is a SyFy TV movie about -- you guessed it -- a tornado that tosses man-eating sharks out of the sea onto land. The hashtag #Sharknado took Twitter by storm. Apparently, the word inspired the movie.

Is there a trend in the air? Familiar words are being reshuffled and transformed into dazzling new things.

We throw old words into new configurations in a rush to keep up with our faster pace of life, the same way we throw on the clothes nearest to us, no matter how mismatched, if we have to rush out of the house.

Maybe it has something to do with technology. The mind reels as it tries to keep up with all the scintillating gadgets and toys. BlackBerry and PCs seem so yesterday. Even IMs feel old compared to some of the newer chat programs. And now we have an explosion of apps where word play is child's play. Move over, Instagram and Pandora; make way for Snapchat, WhatsApp and NearMe.

You have to wonder if there isn't a little bit of nostalgia in the portmanteau craze. It's as if we are saying to all the changes: "Hold on! Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater!" (Don't be a ... throwbaby?)

Hybrid words come in many flavors. Some have an undertone of irony, and even cynicism, to them: anticipointment, Frankenfood, craptacular.

Twenty years ago, genetically modified food was the stuff of science fiction; hence Frankenfood was born.

The concepts behind "craptacular" and "anticipointment" -- the disappointment we feel after the anticipation aroused by hype has been deflated by reality -- are the product of jaded intelligences that see through the commercial artifice around them.

There is something almost decadent, and a little bit Roman, about our rising tide of portmanteaus. In the 17th century, a concept like "frenemy" might have been coined by some caustic French writer with an epigrammatic wit. You might even say that a hybrid is an epigram manque.

But, then, we are in a cultural phase now that seems more conceptual and visual. Words like "cronuts" or "Sharknado" conjure up hard-to-forget images. But will people remember them in 100 years? It depends on whether the words' meanings will still resonate with people. "Sharknado" will probably go the way of the movie it inspired, and cronut seems particularly well suited to NYC in 2013. But who knows? Cronuts could stay with us as long we eat them.

Some words like metrosexual or screenager say a lot about the way we live. We've all felt at one time or another as if we've fallen through the looking glass into some strange new world, where what was familiar to us even five years ago has been turned on its head.

It was, after all, Lewis Carroll's Humpty Dumpty who first coined the word "portmanteau" and defined it: "two meanings packed up into one word."

Unlike Mr. Dumpty, however, we are kept together by our hybrid words, or at least enabled to rearrange the broken pieces of our familiar experience into something we understand. Maybe the best thing about them is that, with their fusion of disparate words and ideas, they break down any notion of cultural purity.

In the end, they capture the most humane promise of American life: the only way through is together.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lee Siegel.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1225 GMT (2025 HKT)
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1128 GMT (1928 HKT)
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1241 GMT (2041 HKT)
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2211 GMT (0611 HKT)
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2218 GMT (0618 HKT)
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1721 GMT (0121 HKT)
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1730 GMT (0130 HKT)
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT