What do you call a librarian on Tumblr?
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, on the OUPAcademic Tumblr, 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 (read more about 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) 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.
The term ‘portmanteau word’ (or simply ‘portmanteau’) has an intriguing derivation. Although ‘portmanteau’ had long been in use in other senses, it seems to have first appeared, in this sense, in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871). Normally we’re reticent when it comes to attributing the creation of a word or sense, in case something is discovered from an earlier source – in this instance, however, it seems to be part of the delightful nonsense which Lewis Carroll made his own, although he was likely influenced by the sense ‘a repository or mixture of a number of disperate ideas’. In a baffling conversation with Humpty Dumpty, Alice is informed that ‘slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy’; “You see it’s like a portmanteau – there are two meanings packed up into one word.” This is the same egg-shaped gentleman who decides that ‘glory’ means ‘a nice knock-down argument’ – with the reasoning that when he uses a word “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less” – so it might have surprised Lewis Carroll to find that this sense of ‘portmanteau’ has been accepted into common use. Nonsense can be useful, it seems.
In case Humpty Dumpty’s definition isn’t clear enough – which is fair enough for a man who falls off walls for a living – here’s a recap: ‘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.
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