A Short List of Synonyms for “Shorten”

By Mark Nichol

Shorten is a serviceable word for describing how to reduce the extent or length of something, but some synonyms are available to use in its place.

Abbreviate stems ultimately from the Latin verb abbreviare, the root of which is from brevis, meaning “short”—the same word from which brevity (“briefness”) and brief are derived.

Abridge, which has nothing to do with bridges (it has the same origin as abbreviate), is often used in the sense of diminishing effect or strength or shortening a written compensation by excising parts.

To curtail is to limit or reduce as if by cutting (its obsolete predecessor, curtal, referred to cutting an animal’s tail short); its derivation is curtus, Latin for “short”—which came to be used in English as curt, an adjective usually applied to a brusque statement. Truncate is ultimately from the Latin word truncus, the source of trunk (as well as truncheon—the original term for a billy club—and the rare word obtruncate, which means “cut the top from”). The original sense is an adjective meaning “with square or even leaves”—leaves that appear to have been artificially shortened and straightened.

Elide means “omit”; it usually pertains to removing a letter, word, or phrase from a document but also has a general sense of “shorten”; the noun form is elision. Syncopate means “cut short,” but it also applies to the linguistic process of syncope, in which part of a word is elided, as in g’day for “good day.” It’s also the verb form of syncopation, which refers to music rhythm based on giving stress to weak rather than strong beats.

There is also a group of short words—often, in their pronunciation, suggestive of abrupt action—that refer to cutting something short, including bob, chop, clip, crop, cut, dock, lop, and snip. Other terms referring to cutting, often in reference to vegetation, include mow, pare, prune, and trim; shave and shear are similar.

Précis, a noun referring to shortening or condensing (from French, and the ancestor of precise), is also a verb; other terms are compress and contract, as well as condense and its close synonym digest (from the sense of the word, also associated with assimilating food into the body, of arranging and dividing). To abstract, profile, and summarize are similar actions, though they involve outlining content rather than reducing its length. Likewise, to epitomize is to serve as an example rather than to actually reduce. Shrinking, meanwhile, involves literally reducing in size rather than abbreviating.

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4 Responses to “A Short List of Synonyms for “Shorten””

  • Thebluebird11

    Thanks…now instead of being considered “short” (at my current height–or lack thereof–of 4’10”), I can be thought of as abbreviated, truncated, abridged, possibly elided, chopped, lopped, cropped or even bobbed…hmmmmmm…I’m sure there is a punchline in there somewhere! 😉

  • Dale A. Wood

    Now that we have ventured into words that are not verbs (unlike “shorten”), there is the adjective “petite”. This came directly from the French (unchanged), and “petite” means “short”.
    Thebluebird11 has probably visited the “petites” department of department stores, and maybe even whole shops devoted to petites (rather than to girls).
    These petites places feature clothing for short adult women that have: shorter legs in the pants; shorter skirts, dresses, and coats; shorter sleeves in jackets, blouses, and coats; and maybe even shorter hosiery and smaller shoes.
    All of these are helpful for short women who want to dress like adults (in clothing that fits well) and not like children.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    I have had college students who were confused about “truncate” versus “round off” to the closest integer.
    If you round off 9.6, then you get 10, but if you truncate 9.6, you get 9.0 .
    Some computer programming languages have a truncate function built into them, too, but it needs to be used carefully.
    If you truncate 3.1415927, then you get 3.0, and if you round off that number to the closest integer, you also get 3.0 .

    If you truncate someone’s ponytail or braid, then you have chopped it off, at least partially. If he / she does not want a ponytail anymore, truncating it would be doing him / her a favor.

  • Dale A. Wood

    If you truncate someone’s finger(s) or toe(s) without anesthesia, that is a form or torture or “enhanced interrogation”, which is something that I don’t believe in.
    On the other hand, surgeons sometimes have to truncate a finger, or some toes, as a legitimate form of treatment for diabetes, gangrene, frostbite, injury, cancer, etc. Anesthesia is usually used.
    I have read that the polar explorer Capt. Peary, in the course of his many travels to the arctic, had to have eight of his ten toes truncated because of frostbite and gangrene. What he had left were his two little toes.
    D.A.W.

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