June 25, 2015

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NATURALNESS

UNDERSTANDABILITY

AFFLUENT / INFLUENZA

af•flu•en•za

FRIEND / ENEMY

fren•e•my

SHARK / TORNADO

shark•na•do

DRAMA / COMEDY

dra•me•dy

BROTHER /ROMANCE

bro•mance

SEX / EXPERT

sex•pert

1

2

3

4

5

6

3.52

3.45

4.45

4.45

3.39

4.3

4.12

4.59

4.65

4.65

4.76

4.82

Researchers Constantine Lignos and Hilary Prichard conducted a study on blends, which combine two words to form a new one, at the University of Pennsylvania. They asked participants to rate dozens of blends on a five-point scale and discovered that people preferred the ones rated most natural and understandable. Here’s what they found.

SUCCESSFUL UNSUCCESSFUL

UNDERSTANDABILITY

NATURALNESS

2.63

2.5

2.71

3.06

2.84

3.26

2.77

3.31

2.1

3.13

2.33

3

WAFFLE / DONUT

wo•nut

FRIENDS / FAMILY

fram•i•ly

COOPERATION / COMPETITION

co•op•e•ti•tion

SNOW / SEQUESTER

snow•ques•ter

DINNER / LUNCH

dunch

SWEATER / JACKET

swack•et

1

2

3

4

5

6

1 COMPLETION PROBABILITY

The word part affluen will autocomplete in people’s minds to a form of affluence. No other common words begin that way, so the blend’s meaning can be processed faster. W is likely to make one think of words like woman.

2 ASSOCIATION

If the two words that make up a blend are mentally associated with each other, it works better. When asked to associate a word with the prompt “enemy,” people will say “friend” 30% of the time; “family” elicits “friend” just 11% of the time.

3 FUN FACTOR

Though hard to quantify, some blends get a boost because they’re fun or tied to a moment in pop culture, the way sharknado was to the eponymous 2013 made-for-TV movie.

4 APPLICABILITY

Linguists say that for a neologism to survive, it needs to be applicable to different situations; dramedies are hitting theaters all the time, while snowquester referred to a specific storm in Washington, D.C.

5 NATURALNESS

Lignos says the most natural blends sound just like one of the root words. Bromance contains a big chunk of both root words. Blends like dunch or linner, which retain only one sound from the first root word, tend to be rated as unnatural.

6 UNDERSTANDABILITY

It’s easier to infer the meaning of the blend if it describes a common thing or phenomenon that people encounter in real life.

SOURCES: UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA FREE ASSOCIATION NORMS; SUBTLEX-U.S. WORD FREQUENCY CORPUS; ENGLISH LEXICON PROJECT

Contact us at editors@time.com.

This appears in the July 06, 2015 issue of TIME.

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