NEW YORK – Hotels advertise “bleisure” packages. The Thai Tourism Authority promotes “honeyteering.” A Mississippi TV anchor tells advocates of gay equality to “go on gaycation.”
Whatever you’re doing on vacation, chances are there’s a made-up word to describe it. Combine honeymoon and volunteering, you get honeyteering. Combine business and leisure, you get bleisure. Add glamour – wine, steak and scented candles – to a camping trip and you’re “glamping.”
Lexicographers call these blended words portmanteaus. The travel industry doesn’t have a monopoly on them – think “brunch.”
But they do “come in handy in a business sector where there’s often a need to come up with clever marketing spin,” said Ben Zimmer, executive producer of vocabulary.com and a language columnist for The Wall Street Journal. “It’s niche marketing. You’re trying to appeal to different sectors of the public: ‘Well, we have a special kind of tourism for you and it has a special name.’”
Other examples include “voluntourism,” “ecotourism” and “mancations.” The last describes a guys’ getaway as popularized by Vince Vaughn in the 2006 movie “The Break-Up.” While the word honeymoon is centuries-old, one of the first cited references to “babymoons” – a couple’s trip before the first baby – was in a 2004 promotion for luxury resorts.
Heavy marketing sometimes can make these blends seem like “stunt words,” said Katherine Connor Martin, head of U.S. Dictionaries for Oxford University Press, which publishes the Oxford English Dictionary.
“They’re so cute and self-conscious,” Martin said.
Their overuse also can even lead to a backlash, as with staycations, a term that often elicits an “Ugh!” response – mainly because most people would rather go away than stay home if they could afford it. The word staycation was used before the recession, but it only was when people cut back on vacations during the economic slowdown that destinations started using the term to market themselves to locals.
“It was trying to take a bleak economic picture and make it into something happy,” Zimmer said. “It had a euphemistic sound.”
The suffix “-cation” also is well-suited to blends, especially if you come up with a term that rhymes with vacations. So, in addition to staycations and gaycations, there are “nakations” at nudist colonies, “hurrications” if you leave town ahead of a storm, and “playcations,” just for fun.
But how do portmanteaus go from being terms nobody can figure out at first glance – such as honeyteering or bleisure – to words everybody loves to hate, like staycation?
“People coin many more words than we end up adopting,” Martin said. “It’s hard to predict which will catch on and which won’t. It’s about seeing people actually using the word in an unself-conscious way, expecting people to know what they mean.”