Smogged and smazed

HERE’S a new term you can add to your vocabulary: smaze, a portmanteau of smoke and haze.

A portmanteau is a new word that is created by blending parts, or sounds, of two or more existing words. For example, “motel” is a portmanteau of “motor” and “hotel,” used to refer to motorists on a long trip who needed a room to stay for the night before resuming their journey.

The original motorists were most probably innocent and had nothing to do with the word’s contemporary shady reputation because the long trip would have rendered them too tired to even think of sex.

“Chillax” is another example. A favorite of teenagers, the word is a combination of “chill” and “relax,” which is weird because it juxtaposes the disagreeable sensation of shivering coldness on one hand and the positive feeling of freedom from stress and anxiety on the other.

Other examples include emoticon (emotion + icon), biopic (biographical + picture), infomercial (information + commercial), hassle (haggle + tussle), and — I didn’t suspect this — because (by + cause).

A close relative of smaze is “smog,” a combination of “smoke” and “fog,” which should not be confused with “smrog” for “smoking frog,” which you didn’t know exist because I love the image of a frog smoking so I made it up.

While smog is also a kind of pollution and equally dangerous, smaze sounds scarier partly because the word is new to our ears and partly because the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) has issued an advisory urging the public to start wearing masks because the level of small dust particles in Cebu’s air has gone beyond safe limits.

Haze is a phenomenon that makes you think your eyesight is starting to fail you so it’s time to wear eyeglasses, when what’s actually happening is that dust, smoke and other dry particles from Indonesia’s forest fires are obscuring the sky.

The EMB recommends the N95 mask without explaining why it is called as such. So I Googled it and learned that “95” means that the mask blocks 95 percent of very small particles, while “N” stands for “NOT resistant to oil.” Meaning you can’t wear an N95 mask while deep-fry cooking.

The N95 mask should not be confused with the surgical mask popular in operating rooms and clinics and which only blocks bigger particles, such as scissors and scalpels, from entering the wearer’s mouth. The bureau also discourages balaclava and other cloth masks, unless you’re robbing a bank. The EMB also cautions strongly against gas masks to avoid the impression that we are in the middle of a chemical warfare.

This is a serious matter for me and my family. Five members of our household are already showing respiratory symptoms. We first thought it’s just the erratic weather, until we heard all these haze news on TV.

So I gathered them last Sunday and told them we have to heed EMB’s call about the N95 mask.

Like a science teacher, I explained to them how the mask protects us from microscopic particles, which include fine particles that are 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter and coarse dust particles between 2.5 and 10 micrometers in diameter, so it’s better to bring a measuring tape.

I also discussed about Indonesia and its love affair with forest fires and about smog and smaze and the joys of portmanteau and distributed five pages of portmanteau samples, which started to bore my audience. So I changed tactic.

I said, “Sometimes it happens in the family that we get bored with each other, right? That sometimes we just don’t want to see each other’s faces anymore, like right now, right?” Then I put on an N95 mask.

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