Angelina Jolie handed Brad Pitt the divorce papers and Twitter handed us #Brangelexit: the exit of the supercouple Brangelina. But for as much as it may make language-peevers and gossip-scolds bristle, this coinage doesn’t deserve our judgment like some botched Botox job. It should get a Hollywood star.
Let’s first admire the construction. Like a rare lexical double rainbow, Brangelexit is a portmanteau, or word blend, built on another portmanteau: It joins exit with Brangelina, which, as superfans have drooled over for the past decade, marries together Brad and Angelina. This construction shows off the wonders and complexity of English compounding as well as our incredible talent for so fluently decoding such Neapolitan neologisms as Brangelexit. The word also strides down the red carpet—that is, of the tongue—much more gracefully than an early competitor that turned heads on social media, #BrexPitt, for all its phonetic, door-slamming force of “Gather up your belongings and get out, Brad.”
Also unlike BrexPitt, Brangelexit preserves that key portmanteau, Brangelina, which came to embody all that is “extravagant, beautiful, sexy, romantic, exotic, adventurous,” as Vanessa Díaz explained in the Atlantic. Just as Brangelina signified something bigger than Brad and Angelina, so Brangelexit conveys the loss of something more than their high-profile marriage. It’s not just the breakup of Brangelina: It’s the breakup of the idea of Brangelina.
And Brangelexit isn’t just another vapid contrivance or hashtag hot take. It’s an informed and worldly lexeme, one that subscribes to, and can boast it actually reads, the Economist. The compound’s -exit alludes to Brexit, Britain’s vote to exit the European Union, the summer blockbuster of both news and Twitter wordplay. This makes Brangelexit a triple threat of glamor, cosmopolitanism, and intelligence, not to mention that the ex- in exit delivers the added punch of the ex- in ex-husband.
Who says celebrity gossip is simply a waste of time? Brangelexit is doing English word formation a valuable service. It’s proving the utility of -exit to convey “a sudden, unexpected, or premature departure” outside of political contexts (cf. Grexit, Czexit). This further establishes -exit as a so-called libfix, a kind of freed-up, word-forming element. It may even be generating a corollary meaning all its own: “the supercouple split.” Should George and Amal Clooney’s marriage take a bad turn, God forbid, we might be headed towards a Gamalexit. That’s a tad inelegant, but Brangelexit still opens up -exit for new uses.
Well-formed, rich in meaning, allusive, and potentially useful, Brangelexit has its lexical luster. But like so many word coinages, and celebrity marriages, the word will likely burn out. Its 15 minutes of fame will come and go, its hashtag will be cached online like some quaint memorabilia, its Hollywood star walked over by so many unknowing feet. In a year that gave us serious political realities like Brexit, Brangelexit is ultimately a trivial bit of wordplay. And yet it’s precisely the frivolity of Brangelexit that offers some much-needed escapism amid an over-newsed, over-Trumped 2016—just as, at least for the starstruck among us, the idealized romance and lifestyle represented by Brangelina spread some glitter over our tedious, workaday lives.