Maureen’s twin, Colleen Walsh dropped a line today with this comment:
In today’s news about Paris Hilton being sentenced to jail there was a new word that I have never heard before. Is it a word or a newsman made-up word. He used the word frenemy to describe one of her friends that really is her enemy.”
“Could you explain the origin of hoosegow, which is another name for jail. It looks like Paris will have plenty of time on her hands. I suggest you send her a dictionary so she can improve her language skills while she is incarcerated.”
Well, Maureen, frenemy was originally not a real word but a ‘nonce’ word, a word someone made up on the spot for one-time use only. Because it was useful it stuck around and probably is a real English word. If you are someone’s enemy by definition you cannot be their friend so what the utterer of this word meant was too complicated to get into a single word (fake friend, fair weather friend, etc.) All these phrases are still around, too, but enough people know frenemy now that it has earned a place in the English vocabulary.
The creator of this word simply smushed together the two words that have the two (of the several) meanings he or she wished to express. Smushed words are called ‘blends’ and they only appear in English and only since around the 50s (motel, smog, etc.) Blends are a sort of halfway abbreviation, an abbreviation with too few letters removed. At best it is a rather border-line means of creating new words but many of these do stick so we have to put up with them.
As for hoosegow, just read our Good Word for March 6, 2006 by clicking ‘Good Word’.