There is nothing, it seems, that the Internet loves so much as … well, cats falling off draining boards, but second to that, it’s abbreviations. As technology and social media expand, and communities continue to grow across the Internet, so language and language use develop and adapt to cater to new situations. From Twitterati to netiquette, a whole raft of new words (often created from existing words) have sprung into being.
We recently asked you which word you would use to describe a librarian on Tumblr: offering the options tumblrian, tumblarian, and tumblrarian.
Lots of you responded, the clear forerunner being tumblarian. It’s a still a fair way off entering any Oxford dictionary (here’s our inclusion policy) but that obviously doesn’t prohibit us using it out and about on Tumblr.
And when TheCommonLibrarian reblogged us, adding ‘This is Tumblrilliant!’ (why, thank you very much) she handily gave us another example of the portmanteau word. For that is what Twitterati, netiquette, and tumblarian have in common, and it is a trend which is often seen across social media.
A ‘portmanteau word’ (or simply ‘portmanteau’) is ‘a word formed by blending sounds from two or more distinct words and combining their meanings’. Which is precisely what you were doing with ‘tumblarian’.
There are plenty of examples of portmanteaus in everyday use, most of which remain in the ‘slang’ or ‘informal’ categories. Frenemy, for example, (‘friend’ + ‘enemy’), fantabulous (‘fantastic’ + ‘fabulous’), and a word which has recently been added to Oxford Dictionaries; flexitarian, from ‘flexible’ and ‘vegetarian’. Some have entered wider, non-slang language use, though, from smog (‘smoke’ and ‘fog’) and vitamin (‘vital’ and ‘amine’) to Oxbridge (Oxford and Cambridge Universities).
As we said, the Internet loves a good abbreviation. It leaves more time for reblogging GIFs of sneezing pandas, you see. Many Internet-related words we take for granted started life as portmanteaus: blog, an abbreviation of ‘weblog’ (‘web’ + ‘log’), emoticon (‘emotion’ + ‘icon’) and even pixel (‘picture’ + ‘element’). As communities develop, so methods of identification evolve alongside. Those ‘in the know’ can refer, say, to the Twitterati (‘Twitter’ + ‘literati’) or their tweeps (‘Twitter’ + ‘peeps’, for people), in the same way that aficionados of Justin Bieber are Beliebers (‘Bieber’ + ‘believer’) and fans of, ahem, Barry Manilow are Fanilows (you probably don’t need that one explained).
More and more of these portmanteau words are likely to develop; some will catch on and others will be left behind. Eventually some are likely to join smog and Oxbridge in the Oxford Dictionaries. We can’t promise anything for the future of tumblarian, as far as the OED is concerned, but we’re glad that we’re a step closer to deciding quite what to call librarians on Tumblr.
Sometimes, it’s the small decisions which really matter.
An abridged version of this Oxford Words post.