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<   No. 3944   2019-03-07   >

Comic #3944

1 Wendy: Remember that time we be puttin' into that French port, and be spendin' some time glamping for a staycation?
2 Wendy: At that gastropub fer brunch we be eatin' ginormous turducken with sporks, and drinkin' frappuccinos. With banoffee pie fer afters.
3 Wendy: And some of our frenemies were bein' there as the band, wearin' jeggin's and playin' keytars?
4 Long Tom: Arrr! Aye! What be the name o' that place again?
4 Wendy: Port Manteau.

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A portmanteau is a word formed by squashing two (or more) other words together. There may be an example or two hidden in the above comic.

The word "portmanteau" itself was first used to describe such words by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking-Glass. He took the word from its then-current meaning of a piece of luggage, describing the blended words as being "packed into one word like a portmanteau". He used it to describe some of the words he had made up in this way for his poem Jabberwocky, including "frumious", "slithy", and "mimsy".

Interestingly, the English word "portmanteau" describing the luggage comes from the French portemanteau, which is itself a portmanteau word, combining the French words porter ("to carry") and manteau ("coat").

Interestingly, the English word "coat" is also a portmanteau, being a blend of the words "coaxial" (referring to the fact that when worn, a coat forms a coaxial sheath around the torso, in the same way as a coaxial cable[1]) and "tabard" (an old-fashioned type of tunic or coat - though obviously before the word "coat" was coined).

[1] Coaxial cable was invented by English electrical engineer Oliver Heaviside[2]. Note that in his portrait he is wearing one of these newfangled coa-ts. (pronounced: co-ats)

[2] Oliver Heaviside was also the person who introduced complex numbers into the mathematical treatment of electrical circuits. If you recall what I wrote about complex numbers in the annotation to strip #1960, the relevant part is that complex numbers can be used to represent waves (such as audio waves or electrical waves) in such a way that you can do the arithmetic of adding them up even when they are out of synch (or out of phase, in the correct jargon). This is very important for electric circuits that use alternating current, as alternating current is in fact a wave of electricity moving back and forth in the circuit.

Heaviside was also one of the two people (together with American electrical engineer Arthur Kennelly) who independently predicted the existence of an ionised layer in the Earth's atmosphere, which would reflect or bend radio waves, thus allowing the observed but then unexplained phenomenon of radio signals being received far around the world from their transmission source. This layer is known as the Kennelly–Heaviside layer, or sometimes just the Heaviside layer, which will be familiar to aficionados of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats and the songs "The Invitation to the Jellicle Ball", and the penultimate "The Journey to the Heaviside Layer".

(This comic is dedicated to those who thought I couldn't get references to Jabberwocky, complex numbers, atmospheric physics, and Cats into a single strip. You know who you are.)

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