20 Clipped Forms and Their Place (If Any) in Formal Writing

By Mark Nichol

Clipped forms, shortened abbreviations of words, have a checkered history. Some are acceptable in formal writing, and others aren’t. When writing in academic contexts, in business writing, or another formal environment, take note of the status of these common clipped forms:

1. Ad: In formal writing, the full form, advertisement, is usually employed.

2. Bra: This clipped form of brassiere, from the French word for “bodice” (its euphemistic meaning: “arm protector”), has supplanted the longer form in all but the most stiffly formal writing.

3. Burger: If ever a reference to this fast food staple makes its way into formal writing, the short form of hamburger is just as likely to appear as the long form.

4. Bus: Omnibus (Latin for “all”), a word for a horse-drawn public-transportation conveyance, gave the right of way to its short form around the time such vehicles became motorized.

5. Copter: The full form, helicopter, is best for formal writing.

6. Deli: Though this word has been in use for at least a half century, delicatessen, from the German word for “delicacies,” is best for formal usage.

7. Exam: Examination was clipped back in the late 1800s and has long since been used even in formal writing.

8. Flu: The short form of influenza (Italian for “influence,” from the medieval supposition that illness was the result of celestial perturbations) is several hundred years old and has long been acceptable even in formal medical texts.

9. Fridge: This term, unusual not only in that the full form, refrigerator, has been clipped at both ends but also in that the spelling has been altered to reflect the pronunciation, is suitable for informal writing only.

10. Gas: Gasoline is much more likely to appear in formal writing than its clipped form.

11. Gator: This clipped form of alligator, in spite of its nearly 200-year-old tenure in the English language, is considered slang.

12. Gym: Most formal references to a school building for athletic activities will use the full form, gymnasium, which many patrons might be amused to learn stems from the Greek word for “naked,” because athletes in ancient Greece trained and competed nude. Because Greek gymnasiums were centers of intellectual education as well, the full term is often used in Europe to refer to what might in the United States be called a preparatory school (which, by the way, has its own clipped form: “prep school”).

13. Memo: So pervasive is this clipped form of memorandum that many people may not even know its origins. (The full word ultimately derives from the Latin for “memory.”)

14. Movie: Even more taken for granted than memo is this diminutive form of “moving picture,” which, if you step back from it, may appear silly looking and juvenile. Formal writing often refers to the medium as film or cinema, but movie is also acceptable.

15. Phone: The original term, telephone, is still often used in formal writing, but the clipped form is just as likely to be used.

16. Plane: Plane has become as acceptable as airplane in formal writing.

17. Pro: Professional, the full form, is the preferred usage in formal contexts.

18. Quake: This clipped form of earthquake is, despite long usage, still considered informal.

19. Tie: The full form, necktie, is all but obsolete. (Perhaps the clothing accessory will be, too, before long.)

20. Typo: This slang for “typographical error” is over a century old but is still considered substandard usage.

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12 Responses to “20 Clipped Forms and Their Place (If Any) in Formal Writing”

  • Shyxter

    Thanks, Mark. Now I know better which clipped words are okay for formal writing. I do use these shortened forms in my usual writing jobs.

  • Robert

    Subtitles for en-GB viewers:
    10. Gas: Petrol is much more likely to appear in any writing than its en-US form.
    14. Pictures: Even more taken for granted than memo is this diminutive form of “moving picture,” …
    16. Plane: Plane has become as acceptable as aeroplane in formal writing.

    This posting on clipt (or clipped as you prefer) forms is only the second I’ve received, but I think they’re very useful. Thanks.

  • Beth

    This was really interesting, Mark. We’re so used to these clipped forms, we’ve forgotten the original words. Here’s another one: “fax” is a clipped form of “facsimilie.”

  • Chioma

    Now, who would have thought that movie and tie were clipped words? Certainly not me. Thanks for educating me.

  • Sandy

    How about condo?

  • AnWulf

    Who uses copter? When I was a soldier, they were called choppers.

  • Kirc

    I didn’t know that movie was a clipped word for moving pictures! Thanks Mark!

  • Deborah H

    Re: copter. Certainly helicopter is the preferred form in formal writing, but even chopper is considered archaic now, along with copter. The preferred “clipped” word is now helo.

    Isn’t “Fridge” the clipped form of Frigidaire, a brand name that became synonymous with refrigerator?

  • Mark Nichol

    Deborah:

    I hadn’t made the connection between fridge and Frigidaire, but I found a couple of sources that mention the possibility. A site visitor from France noted, too, that in his country, frigidaire is used generically, just as kleenex and xerox and other brand names are employed to refer to all products of that type, and that fridge is a slang term for that brand of refrigerators.

  • Robert

    Tsk, tsk, Beth! Loose spelling wouldn’t normally bother me, but if you are specifically intending to introduce people to a new word then it’s really necessary to spell it rite!

    Please write out 100 times (individual keystrokes please – no copy/paste, or quill is also acceptable)

    The word facsimile was first used (according to Merriam-Webster’s website) in the same year that in New England the two separate colonies of Massachusetts Bay Colony and Plymouth Colony were united into a single entity by an act of the King and Queen of England (according to Wikipedia, so you’d better check that in an authoritative source)

  • Shaunn

    Very interesting…. I really like this. Question is: Is our language evolving, or are we getting dumber?

  • Christian Cruzata

    I use clipped word very often when speaking, however I was not that conscious about the background concerning clipped word. Thanks for updating my knowledge.

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