739: Malamanteau

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The article has twenty-three citations, one of which is an obscure manuscript from the 1490s and the other twenty-two are arguments on LanguageLog.
Title text: The article has twenty-three citations, one of which is an obscure manuscript from the 1490s and the other twenty-two are arguments on LanguageLog.


A malapropism is the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical utterance. An example of a malapropism is Yogi Berra's statement: "Texas has a lot of electrical votes," rather than "electoral votes". A portmanteau is a word made up of two or more combined words. For example, motel is a portmanteau, from the words motor and hotel. A neologism is simply a newly coined word that is not yet in common use.

Here, Randall shows a hypothetical Wikipedia page of the word "malamanteau" which is both a portmanteau of "malapropism" and "portmanteau" and a neologism. The method used to create this new word is one of the very words used in the process. This is called a meta or "self-referential" joke.

By using many large obscure words in one sentence, Randall may also be picking on linguists, one of his favorite subjects, who are known for coining and using such words.

"Malamanteau" was originally coined in 2007, when it was proposed by user ludwig_van on Metafilter as a term for language errors like "flustrated" (flustered & frustrated) and "misconscrewed" (misconstrued & screwed).

The bottom line of the comic (Ever notice how Wikipedia has a few words it really likes?) is a reference to a large number of Wikipedia pages that start by labeling their subject matter as a malapropism, a portmanteau, or a neologism.

In response to this comic, editors at Wikipedia created a malamanteau page. It was deleted multiple times and eventually turned into a redirect to the Wikipedia page for xkcd. Malamanteau and the controversy at Wikipedia got coverage at The Economist and The Boston Globe. The comic is used to illustrate this section of the xkcd Wikipedia article. In order for this to be possible Randall had to change the license for this particular comic. This has been explained in a unique header text that is only displayed on the page for Malamanteau.

The title text refers to Wikipedia's requirements of citations for a page on there to exist. It also refers to the wide range of places citations can be obtained from, showing a direct opposition due to the use of very different citations (The Language Log arguments are modern and informal, whereas the obscure manuscript is formal and much older). The title text also refers to the fact that Language Log is frequently used for Wikipedia citations.

Language Log is a blog that posts content relating to language and linguistics, including things like malapropisms and portmanteaus. While an informal source, it has produced new linguistic terms before, such as eggcorn. Its comments sections frequently contain discussions and arguments about English, whose participants are probably the same people who write Wikipedia articles about linguistic phenomena like malamanteaus. In actual fact, Malamanteau did not appear on Language Log until after this strip. Malamanteau has since been referenced on the Language Log website, with a link to the comic in question. Language Log has referenced xkcd many times before, reposting the comics and linking to the xkcd website.

The title text jokingly refers to the "malamanteau" citations being Language Log references and a document from the 1490s, in reference to the fact that linguists, like those who post on Language Log, often use old documents as evidence, possibly to prove that construction is a longstanding feature of the language. The joke is that the only references to this word or concept are a 500-year-old document and linguists informally arguing about what it means. In reality, if these citations were the only evidence of the term's use, then it would be unlikely to be a notable feature worthy of a Wikipedia article. Most articles that are only cited by a single website tend to get deleted unless the subject has achieved significant coverage in outside news media.

The comic shows Wikipedia as it would have looked at the beginning of May 2010, using its then-current logo and the then-default “Monobook” skin. Incidentally, just a day after the comic’s publication, a new version of the Wikipedia logo was published, and the default skin was switched to the “Vector” skin. Both of these still define the look of Wikipedia as of 2021 (though Vector undergoes continuous updates).

Interestingly, the "f" in Wikipedia's tagline "Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia" (the one below the page title, though not the same phrase in the sidebar element) is lowercase. This differs from the other letters, which are written in xkcd's standard all-caps font.


[The strip is set up as the top of a Wikipedia page.]
[The Wikipedia logo.]
The free encyclopedia
[Side navigation options.]
-Main Page
-Featured Content
-Current Events
[Wikipedia header options.]
Article Discussion Edit this page History
[The article itself.]
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A malamanteau is a neologism for a portmanteau created by incorrectly combining a malapropism with a neologism. It is itself a portmanteau of [...the article cuts off.]
[Below the panel.]
Ever notice how Wikipedia has a few words it really likes?

External links[edit]

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Neologism isn't properly defined in the explanation. A neologism can be any new word; it doesn't have to be made through a combination of other words. Also, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malamanteau redirects to xkcd's page last I checked. Wiktionary's page on it was deleted almost 3 years ago. Additionally, the description is missing an explanation for the image text (and maybe the word "portmanteau" should get a definition included). 22:03, 21 April 2013 (UTC)

Now that you mention that the page redirects to xkcd, it's interesting to see the Revision history on it (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Malamanteau&action=history&year=2013) Saibot84 (talk) 03:24, 18 May 2013 (UTC)
  • <12:44, 26 April 2013>‎ Amalthea (Protected Malamanteau: Repeatedly recreated ([Edit=Block all non-admin users] (indefinite) [Move=Block all non-admin users] (indefinite)))
  • <12:43, 26 April 2013>‎ Amalthea (-130) (Revert to revision by Amalthea)
  • <11:34, 26 April 2013>‎ IP_77... (+130) (Undid revision by Amalthea, restored the content)
  • <13:25, 20 April 2013‎> Amalthea‎ (-130) (In the absence of new reliable sources that can bring this beyond a dictionary entry, I think the consensus from Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/Malamanteau still holds.)
  • <13:07, 20 April 2013‎> IP_87... (+130) (restored the content from the comic)
  • <22:07, 27 September 2012‎ Scottywong (+18) (redirect to xkcd)
  • <unknown date> Page Deleted

I have a feeling that the main point of this comic was that the words "portmanteau" and "neologism" (and maybe even "malapropism") appear disproportionately more on Wikipedia than other references. I certainly would agree with that sentiment. --Quicksilver (talk) 02:19, 20 August 2013 (UTC)

The page is still redirecting to the wikipedia page on xkcd, how long do you think it will be before the original content is restored? Whiskey07 (talk) 11:37, 21 November 2013 (UTC)

Never. The page has now been fully, indefinitely protected. Good thing too. NealCruco (talk) 21:45, 27 December 2013 (UTC)

I tend to agree with Quicksilver's comment: not only is the comic poking fun at Wikipedia's propensity for using these words, but Randall's comic has created a page relying on almost no content _except_ these sorts of words. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

"and a malapropism of "portmanteau"." I'm a little confused on how that is a malapropism.-- 09:42, 18 April 2017 (UTC)

I am quite tempted to add a citation needed note to this sentence: "This is called a meta or "self-referential" joke." Erin Anne (talk) 14:28, 18 October 2021 (UTC)

It’s great. Or eventually after searching through links entitled to sitewars thisis actually loveable. Knowing annotators basically oppose uncitated terms, picking a really, evidently imaginary disambiguation… Overreaction leaps inevitably athand. Aggressors tend to have explanations similarto ”imaginary terms”. Every other frase known now once was laughable, even droll. Goodly ended arguments sparsely keep winning. Here you afford results earn nice triumphs. To have every reader everywhere searching this article redirected… Sensational! (Jacey) JezebelCeasedToExist (talk) 13:03, 11 April 2022 (UTC)

So, to explain: Get all non-initials. Offload / gently remove. Add punctuation. Herewith you've... "I go east, let's talk about pareidolia. At the site of knowledge, ask why arent there stars?" 15:01, 11 April 2022 (UTC)
(Psst, you are really clever! But could you remove this comment and bring it back in a week? I just don't want it to be immediately spoiled for everyone.) JezebelCeasedToExist (talk) 15:22, 11 April 2022 (UTC)