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When you have initialed portmanteaux and assorted suitcases, it would seem that concerns of travelling light are irrelevant. Above, Marlene Dietrich and her monogrammed luggage. Was this packed for a staycation? Perhaps she was travelling to a motel?

When I first began writing this post, I had not seen blue skies for over a month here in Kuala Lumpur. Tall buildings were swathed in a greyish ‘haze’. I sat on our verandah and watched the grey smog slither over the trees on the hill nearby and inch closer. The sun when it rose, protested in an unnatural blood-red. The normally blue water in our pool  turned a virulent green. School was cancelled as the API readings crept up. More people wore masks. Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore choked in polluted air brought on by the clearing and burning of grasses in palm-oil plantations on peaty ground. It’s a slow smoulder that seems impossible to stop and wreathes all in its nebulous clutches.

More than 117,000 fires detected by ASA satellites this year, have been burning to clear land for farming or palm oil plantations. The burning has removed thousands of hectares of forest and polluted the air. Students can glance out the window and come close to accurately estimating the API reading – a sad skill.

“It’s not just the trees that are burning. It is the land itself. Much of the forest sits on great domes of peat. When the fires penetrate the earth, they smoulder for weeks, sometimes months, releasing clouds of methane, carbon monoxide, ozone and exotic gases such as ammonium cyanide. The plumes extend for hundreds of miles, causing diplomatic conflicts with neighbouring countries” (Read more here George Monbiot, Guardian).

It was enough to dream of Marlene Dietrich’s portmanteaux and head off for smogless skies. Was haze a euphemistic term for smog?  It isn’t quite so shocking as smog smog reeks of pollution while haze is, well, vague. Both are free base elements although smog is the classic example of a portmanteau or blend.

Haze: Ironically the etymology of haze is just that – hazy! Haze is a free base element, first attested in 1706, but possibly a back-formation from hazy. This means that the adjective hazy is the older word, 1620s, with haze formed after this, almost  a century later according to the OED. It can now be analyzed into two morphemes: <haze+y>. There is the suggestion that haze and hazy are connected with Old English hasu , haswe ‘grey’, or even the German ‘hase’: hare. The latter may be due to the medieval superstition involved  around ill fortune and hares. Beware of bringing a dead hare onto a fishing boat and never ever utter this word while onboard ! (Online Etymology Dictionary).

However, this etymology like haze itself, is vague and indefinite.The denotation refers to ‘an obscuration of the atmosphere near the surface of the earth, caused by an infinite number of minute particles of vapour in the air’. In the 18th century haze referred to a ‘thick fog or hoar-frost’; but now usually to a’ thin misty appearance, which makes distant objects indistinct, and often arises from heat’. It later broadened to the figurative sense: ‘a condition of intellectual vagueness and indistinctness; the obscurity of a distant time.’ It can be used verbally as seen in this 1691 example from J. Ray N. Country Words  ‘It hazes, it misles, or rains small rain.’

Haze, the verb, (verb1, OED) is a homonym with the denotation of  ‘force (new or potential recruit to the military or a university fraternity) to perform strenuous, humiliating or dangerous tasks.’ This word derived from Old French haser: to irritate that led to an early sense of fright, scare or scold, then to a nautical sense of punishment through harsh work, and finally evolving to cruel horseplay. So a  different root from the misty haze. The two forms, superficially identical, are most definitely not related.

Smog attested from 1905 is a newer coinage and in reference to the suffocating situation of smoke and fog in London perhaps coined by Dr H.A.Des Voeux when he presented his paper on behalf of the Coal Smoke Abatement Society. It is a blend of two free base elements <smoke> and <fog>. Of course smog cannot be analyzed  into morphemes. Morphologically it is a simple word (no affixes), where two morphological fragments and the meanings from their parent words have been compacted into one new lexeme. Smog is therefore a free base element. Affixes can be attached to this new base to create a small group of relatives.

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Smaze, less prevalent than smog, was coined in 1953. It is a blend from smoke and haze.

1969 saw the emergence of the word vog first in Hawaii, from volcanic and fog. It refers to the smog containing volcanic dust and gasses.

Fog like haze is most likely a back formation from ‘foggy’. Both foggy and fog are attested at the same time, perhaps of Scandinavian origin in the 14th century where it meant ‘long grass’. The connection between grass and fog is suggested by places overgrown with long grass, then to grassy wetlands hence to boggy, marshy areas and so to the vaporous air rising from these places.

I was surprised to discover the fleshiness of the adjective foggy in 1562  – flabby, spongy in consistency, but also applying to people: ‘Unwholesomely bloated, swollen with flabby and unhealthy corpulence, puffy’. The OED cites a wonderfully alliterative reference from 1529: “All foggy fat she were‘  by the poet J. Skelton in his  Tunnyng of Elynour Rummyng. (Tunning from Old English tunne meaning the cask for storing ale or wine and Elynour, the coarse, foggy, public-house owner and brewer). The senses of fleshy, corpulent foggy have faded from usage.

The OED indicates that foggy in its various senses is ‘somewhat doubtful,’ but shows  a ‘plausible’ development of meaning from ‘resembling, consisting of, or covered with ‘fog’ or coarse grass’; covered with moss to boggy,marshy to ‘of the flesh and people – corpulent, bloated, puffy to that of food that puffs one up, to the floating thick particles in ale, to the air, mist and cloud- thick and murky. The figurative sense of ‘obscure, dull, bemuddled, confused’ is from 1603 (OED). However, the Online Etymology Dictionary says this connection is ‘tempting but not proven.’ Perhaps, as Ayto suggests, Danish fog as ‘spray, shower or snowdrift’ may be the more accurate etymology. 

Further intrigue when I discovered the link between fogey/fogy and foggy. The OED suggests a possible ‘substantive use’ of the adjective foggy as in fat, bloated, or in the sense of moss-grown. Originally referring to an invalid or garrison soldier in 1785, it quickly pejorated further by 1790 to mean ‘a man advanced in life; esp. one with antiquated notions, an old-fashioned fellow, one ‘behind the times’ ‘(OED)

Blends: Smog and smaze are both blends. However, this is not because of their initial consonant cluster <sm>. The term blend has a precise linguistic meaning and two adjacent consonants do not make a blend, despite what we see to the contrary in many curriculum documents. ‘Consonants in blends: A blend contains two or three graphemes because the consonant sounds are separate and identifiable. A blend is not “one sound.”‘ ( Common Core, Appendix A,p.20). This document hasn’t the ‘foggiest’ of the linguistic term ‘blends’ and shrouds all in its miasma of pseudo-linguistic knowledge. Consonants cluster and vowels glide, never do they blend!

A blend is “a case in which two elements which do not normally co-occur come together within a single linguistic unit.” ( Crystal,D. Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics)

Blends are truncated and reassembled morphological fragments.They are blended without consideration of morphological boundaries. They carry the denotations of the original words with them and along with these ‘blended’ fragments become a new single lexical item. Lewis Carol referred to this type of word formation as a portmanteau –  ‘there are two meanings packed up into one word.’ Go to Real Spelling’s phanfare: The Portmanteau Word or Blend to understand the blend and its structure : juxtaposition, overlapping and nesting.

Ayto notes that ‘the [1920s] saw the coming of age of the blend … Some still familiar ones had emerged before 1900 (brunch, for instance, a blend of breakfast and lunch), but it was the 1920s that really started taking a liking to them.” I wondered about  early blends, once perhaps a surprise with the shock of the new, but now their blendings so disguised and the word itself commonplace. Below some blends that caught my fancy during my research:

The obsolete drubly of 1340 may be a blend that juxtaposes the <dr> fragment from Old English dróf , dróflic (Middle English *drov(e)ly meaning turbid, disturbed with the <ubly> fragment from Middle English trobly, troubly adj. from French, trouble to create a meaning of turbid, troubled. A useful word to resuscitate.

Jounce from 1440 mid 15th century is a blend of jump and bounce: ‘To move violently up and down, to fall heavily against something; to bump, bounce, jolt; to go along with a heavy jolting pace’.

Crash: Ayto writes of crash ‘appearing out of nowhere in Middle English’ around 1400, entering the word hoard with a crash, alone, an ‘orphan’ with no relatives in other Germanic languages. While its form suggests it is onomatopoeic, another suggestion is that it is a blend of craze and dash, an overlapping of fragments <cra> with <ash>.

Twiddle is attested from 1547, but ‘rare in use until the 19th century.’ It may be a blend of twirl or twist indicating trifling action, as in fiddle , piddle. (OED).

Twirl: The origins of twirl are vague, attested in 1590s perhaps as The Online Etymology dictionary suggests, ‘connected with Old English þwirl “a stirrer, handle of a churn,” and Old Norse þvara “pot-sticker, stirrer.” Another etymological hypothesis is that it is a blend of twist and whirl so an overlap of fragments <twi> from twist with <irl> from twirl.

An aside: Both twirl and twiddle carry connotations of ‘twoness’ as indicated by the consonant cluster <tw>. Collect a list of words where the <tw> cluster occurs to test the connection of ‘two’: twilight, twin, twill, twine, between, tweezers, twig … there’s more! The <tw> cluster in two is not a ‘silent’ letter – letters don’t chatter, nor is it there by coincidence, its function is to mark an etymological connection and signal a difference in meaning from its homophones – to and too.

More blends: I particularly liked niddicock, attested from 1587 to  mean ‘a fool, an idiot’. The origin is uncertain but the OED suggests it is a blend of ‘nidiot n. and nodcock n.’

ninneversity is a humorous blend of ninny and university from 1592: ‘[I] will make a shippe that shall hold all your colleges, and so carrie away the Niniuersitie..to the Bankeside in Southwarke.(R. Greene Frier Bacon, OED).

Slosh of 1814 may be a blend of slop and slush. The <slo> of slop juxtaposed with the <sh> of slush.

Blunge: from 1830 juxtaposes the morphological fragments from blend and plunge and means to mix (clay, powdered flint, etc.) up with water.

Snivelization from 1849, a nonce-word, is also a favorite, it’s denotation: ‘Civilization considered derisively as a cause of anxiety or plaintiveness’. ‘Ye wouldn’t have been to sea here, leadin’ this dog’s life, if you hadn’t been snivelized… Snivelization has been the ruin on ye’.(H. Melville Redburn xxi. 131,OED)

Beerage of 1891 a blend of beer and peerage.

The etymology of prissy 1844 is uncertain; perhaps it’s a blend of prim and sissy (OED). It is an example of overlapping the fragments <pri >from prim with <issy> from sissy.

The useful, but now rarely uttered mudge is from 1848, a blend of mud and sludge, so the <mu> fragment overlaps the <udge> fragment.

Australia’s squattocracy from squatter and aristocracy appears in the 1840s, and is a denigrating term connecting sqautters with aristocracy.

I loved nerk a noun from 1955. The OED states it is of uncertain origins although cites the hilarious Goon show scripts as examples:You don’t think I’d threaten you with an unloaded banana? Now come on, tell me—where is Fred Nurke? (S. Milligan, 1954.) Listen, tiny nerk (S. Milligan Goon Show Scripts, 1955Nerk, the OED suggests, is a blend of the nouns nerd and berk or jerk. It denotes a foolish, objectionable, or insignificant person.

From the Telegraph just recently: “rush hour” and “frustration” leaves you with rushtration, ‘for which there is no easy cure.’

Loiterature n. Articles, posts, books, or other material that a person reads while waiting.

2014 saw infobesity , infobese from the words information and obseity up for an honorable mention on Wordspy as Word of the Year. First seen in 2003.

Procaffination ‘meaning the action of delaying or postponing something until one has had one or more cups of coffee; drinking coffee slowly as a delaying tactic’ was voted the most likely to succeed word from procrastination and caffeine. Earliest usage was 2010.

Bagonize from bag and agonize, means to wait in agony at the airport luggage carousel for your luggage to appear, perhaps even to bagonize over a portmanteau.

And so to return to smog, fog and haze.

Concerns about the air quality in London are centuries old. In researching these words, I have been delighted to learn about the diarist John Evelyn who in 1661 wrote to Parliament and the King : And what is all this, but that Hellish and dismall Cloud of SEACOALE?” he wrote, “so universally mixed with the otherwise wholesome and excellent Aer, that her Inhabitants breathe nothing but an impure and thick Mist accompanied with a fuliginous and filthy vapour…” (Fumifugium: or the Inconvenience of the Aer and Smoake of London Dissipated).

John Evelyn 1620 – 1706, contemporary of Pepys, diarist, ‘scholar, connoisseur, bibliophile and horticulturalist, as well as a writer and thinker of sometimes startlingly current relevance, on everything from forestry, architecture and the formation of a universal library to fashion and air pollution.'(British Library)

Evelyn’s proposal was farsighted, suggesting all polluting industries – such as brewing, fabric dying, soap and salt manufacturing, and lime-burning should relocate outside the City of London. He proposed an improvement to air quality by plantations of sweet smelling flowers and vegetation in areas adjacent to the city.  He also warned that ‘continued growth of glassworks and iron industries would have dramatic consequences for British timber resources. He vehemently advocated an extensive reforestation program and the systematic foundation of forests and parks in England.’

Sketches of garden tools by John Evelyn illustrating more than 70 tools and pieces of equipment in Elysium Britannicum,’ including wheelbarows and water barrows, rakes of ‘severall sizes and finesses’, and a veritable array of spades, trowels, hoes, shears and pruning to to say noting of other garden essentials such as flower plots, cases and measuring equipment'(Parks & Gardens, UK).

In 1849 Melville wrote: ‘Upon sallying out this morning encountered the old fashioned pea soup London fog’.This smoke filled fog by 1890 was referred to as a pea-souper:  ‘a dense, often yellowish fog or smog, usually associated with polluted urban areas’, an analogy based on the colour and thickness of dried pea soup.

In the nineteenth century smoke abatement movements appeared. The Kyrle Society, of the 1880s, a philanthropic organization providing books, art and open spaces to the working class poor, set up its own smoke abatement committee. ‘The Kyrle Society held a Smoke Abatement Exhibition in South Kensington in 1881, attended by over 116,000 people.’

Minute book from the Coal Smoke Abatement Society, 1898. Wellcome Library reference: SA.EPU.A.1.1 Note the name Dr H A Des Voeux, secretary of the society.

However by 1898 the London air quality was so polluted that the artist Sir William Blake Richmond wrote to The Times comparing the effect of the pollution to  a total eclipse of the sun. Sir William became the Society’s president with London surgeon, Dr Harold Des Voeux, as treasurer( Kirsteen Connor,Wellcome Library).

Coincidentally as I finish this post on December 8, 2015, 63 years earlier in 1952, The Great Smog of London was suffocating Londoners. So dense the fog, that by December 7 there was ‘no sunlight and visibility was reduced to five yards in many places.’ Transportation ceased as the smog caused accidents, including ‘a collision between two trains near London Bridge’. The press claimed cattle at Smithfield had been asphyxiated. Many people died between December 4 and December 8 with deaths in London estimated at a cautious 4,000, perhaps as high as 8,000.


A London bus travelling through smog filled streets, December 6, 1952

On December 9, the smog cleared. ‘In the aftermath of this incident, the British government passed more stringent regulations on air pollution and encouraged people to stop using coal to heat their homes’.(This Day in History, Met Office).

The haze or smog shrouding Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia has passed also, but what will it take to prevent its recurrence? John Evelyn saw the light through London’s smog over three hundred and fifty four years ago. Yet his recommendations and warnings are relevant beyond London.

I wish I was writing from a time when the words haze, smaze and smog were marked by a cross in the OED indicating that they were obsolete. I wish there was no need for these words except as evidence of uncaring times when we and our politicians didn’t do enough to protest the desecration of air, forests, the species dependent on the forests, and the people shrouded by these polluted skies.

While blends have a wry humour, it’s a sad statement of the apathy our times that a new blend  pollutician from the words pollution and politician emerged in 1992 and is still applicable.

Children in central Kalimantan, Indonesia during ‘ the haze’ Photo:Ardiles Rante/Greenpeace via Guardian

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

From The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,TS Eliot written 1920