So I pull up a story on The Ringer the other day and I’m stopped cold by the subhead:
“This season, he’ll earn about $1.3 million every two weeks — plus more facts about the LeBronTract,” it said.
I shouldn’t have gone on. Instead, I read far enough to see Shea Serrano say (or write) the following:
I am very excited that we’re calling this the LeBronTract. That’s great. It’s the second happiest thing I can think of right now.
(The first happiest, in case you were wondering, was the inclusion of Mike Conley on a list that also features Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.)
I nearly threw down my phone. (I didn’t, because they’re expensive.) It isn’t enough that we’ve had Brangelina, Bennifer, Kimye, TomKat and cronut. Now we have to combine “LeBron” with “contract.”
Listen, I’m not against what are called “portmanteau” words, a combination of two or more words to create one. Hell, if I’m to believe Wikipedia (a portmanteau of “wiki” and “encyclopedia”), “portmanteau” itself is a portmanteau of “porte” and “manteau,” meaning an overcoat stand. (It was also a two-sectioned suitcase.)
The creation has a long and sometimes punning history, including the Lewis Carroll creations “slithy” (slimy and lithe) and “chortle” (chuckle and snort), both from “Jabberwocky.” In the 20th and 21st centuries, portmanteau words have often entered everyday language: “motel” (motor hotel), “camcorder” (camera and recorder), “telemarketing” (telephone and marketing), not to mention the tech-era “codec,” “pixel” and “malware.”
But the practice has gotten out of hand. “Reaganomics” made some sense, because “econ” and “Reagan” had that similar “n” sound, and Reagan’s platform was based around an overhaul of Washington taxes and regulations — something that was very different from the economic policies of the day. But now every president and candidate gets a “-nomics”: “Clintonomics,” “Bushonomics,” “Obamanomics,” “Trumpnomics.” (Trumpnomics?) C’mon, Washington press corps — surely you can do better than that.
For that matter, so can tabloids, technology marketers and many corners of social media. It seems not a day goes by without somebody insisting on mashing up every celebrity couple, notable feud, three-week trend and high-tech idea into a single word.
The thing is, for every clever turn — “celebutante,” “mockumentary” and “bankster” are all wonderfully suggestive — there are the clumsy combinations that sound like an anvil clanging in an echo chamber: “murse,” “frenemy,” “blogrebity” and “shart.” (And I’d argue the awful “Tronc” is a portmanteau — Tribune Online Content, right? — which definitely suggests big business should go back to paying guys like Paul Rand.)
So let’s think before forcing two words together. Because if there’s one word to describe something like “LeBronTract,” it’s fugly.