Kangaroo Word Definition and Examples in English

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

kangaroo crossing

 

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Kangaroo word is a playful term for a word that carries within it a synonym of itself. Examples include regulate (rule), indolent (idle), and encourage (urge). A kangaroo word is also known as a marsupial or swallow word.

Generally, the synonym (called a joey) within a kangaroo word should be the same part of speech as the kangaroo word and its letters should appear in order (though usually spaced out). The term kangaroo word was popularized by author Ben O'Dell in a short article in The American Magazine, published in 1956.

Origin of the Word

Kangaroo words are so named because they carry their synonyms with them as a kangaroo would its joey. Anu Garg, author of Another Word a Day: An All-New Romp Through Some of the Most Unusual and Intriguing Words in English, explains what qualifies a kangaroo word. "Why do we call them kangaroo words? Not because they originated in Australia. Rather, these are marsupial words that carry smaller versions of themselves within their spellings.

So 'respite' has 'rest,' 'splotch' has 'spot,' 'instructor' has 'tutor,' and 'curtail' has 'cut.' Sometimes a kangaroo word has more than one joey. The word 'feasted' has a triplet, 'fed,' 'eat,' and 'ate.' Finally, two qualifications: the joey word has to have its letters in order within the parent kangaroo word, but if all the letters are adjacent, for example, enjoy/joy, it doesn't qualify," (Garg 2005).

Kangaroo Word Examples

The more examples of kangaroo words you see, the more you begin to understand how useful this term is. Find the joey in each of these words:

  • destruction (ruin)
  • devilish (evil)
  • masculine (male)
  • observe (see)
  • plagiarist (liar)
  • rambunctious (raucous)
  • supervisor (superior)

"Among the kangaroo words that yield the most joviality and joy are those that conceal multiple joeys," notes Richard Lederer. "Let's now perambulate, ramble, and amble through an exhibit of this species. Open up a container and you get a can and a tin. ... When you deteriorate, you rot and die.

A routine is both rote and a rut. Brooding inside loneliness are both loss and oneness. A chariot is a car and a cart. A charitable foundation is both a fund and a font. Within the boundaries of a municipality reside city and unity, while a community includes county and city," (Lederer 1998).

​​Anti-Kangaroo Words

An antonym is a word opposite in meaning to another word. Antonyms and synonyms are opposites, so a word containing antonyms within itself can be called an anti-kangaroo word. "ANTI-KANGAROO WORD: n. in recreational linguistics, a word that contains its antonym. 'The word covert is an anti-kangaroo word because it contains overt,'" (Evans 2011).

Sources

  • Evans, Rod L. Thingamajigs and Whatchamacallits: Unfamiliar Terms for Familiar Things. TarcherPerigee, 2011.
  • Garg, Anu. Another Word a Day: An All-New Romp Through Some of the Most Unusual and Intriguing Words in English. 1st ed., Wiley, 2005.
  • Lederer, Richard. The Word Circus: A Letter-Perfect Book. Merriam-Webster, 1998.