Shortened forms of words like rhinoceros (rhino), synchronization (sync), and limousine (limo), common in conversation and informal writing, are usually used in their entirety in formal contexts.
These shortened words are called clippings. Sometimes a clipping drives out its longer original and becomes a standard word in its own right.
Some standard English words that began as clippings are:
taxi: a shortening of Taximeter, a device for measuring distance and figuring the fare.
cab: a shortening of cabriolet, a light two-wheeled chaise drawn by one horse. Later the word was applied to a motorized vehicle.
Note: The word taxi-cab combines two clippings.
lunch: a shortening of luncheon, a word documented from 1580. Although lunch is documented as early as 1829, it was still considered to be vulgar a century later. Luncheon is still around, but it has acquired something of a precious connotation.
bus: a shortening of omnibus. Classical Latin omnibus means “for all.” As a term for a public transportation vehicle, omnibus was borrowed from French. The wealthier classes had enjoyed the services of carriages for hire as early as the 17th century. The omnibus offered inexpensive public transportation to the masses.
plane: a shortening of aeroplane/airplane.
Words are clipped from front, back, or both ends.
Most clippings keep the front part of the word, dropping the remaining syllables:
chimpanzee > chimp
synchronize > sync
examination > exam
gasoline > gas
memorandum > memo
Some clippings change the spelling of the first syllable in order to keep the desired pronunciation. For example, the shortening of business is spelled biz because severed from business, the syllable bus is pronounced like the word for the vehicle.
The shortened form mike for microphone has been in the language since 1911. Beginning in the 1960s, the use of the abbreviation “mic” on electronic devices began to be confused with the word mike. As an abbreviation under an audio port, “mic” is a useful space-saver. It fails as a spelling, however, because mic rhymes with Bic.
Some shortenings drop the beginning of the word:
robot > bot
parachute > chute
cockroach > roach
telephone > phone
In middle clipping the middle of the word is retained:
refrigerator > fridge
influenza > flu
pajamas > jammies
Only time will tell which of the current shortened words so popular in social media will stick to the language.
Here are some linguistic terms related to word formation by clipping:
apocope [uh-POK-uh-pee]: The cutting off or omission of the last letter or syllable/s of a word: pic from picture, vocab from vocabulary.
apheresis [a-fuh-REE-sis]: omission of one or more sounds or letters from the beginning of a word: possum from opossum.
syncope [SEENK-uh-pee]: contraction of a word by omission of one or more syllables or letters in the middle, like ma’m from madam, specs from spectacles, and fo’c’sle for forecastle.
Subscribe to Receive our Articles and Exercises via Email
- You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!
- Subscribers get access to our exercise archives, writing courses, writing jobs and much more!
- You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!
13 Responses to “Word Clipping”
The spelling in American English is “taxicab”, and never in my life have I ever seen “taxi-cab”.
I believe that “taxicab” is used in Canada, too.
Please do not use excessive hyphens.
I have read that the following word arose in ENGLAND:
“hemidemisemiquaver”, and NOT “hemi-demi-semi-quaver”.
I have read that the American name for this kind of a (rarely-used) note is a 1/64th note.
There are also demisemiquavers and semiquavers.
I probably would not know about or care about these except for a noteworthy set of dialog and music in the film CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.
The simple word “car” is a clipping of “carriage”.
This applies to either automobiles or trains.
Thus, when people overseas say “railway carriage”, they really mean a “railroad car” in American or Canadian English.
There is that odd word “sleeper” that is used in the English of the British Isles, Australia, and New Zealand, but what they mean is a “railroad tie” in North American English.
Note that the United States has more miles of railroad tracks than any other country, and that Canada has tens of thousand more of railroad tracks, including a line that runs all the way from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Vancouver, British Columbia.
There is a passenger railroad that connects New Brunswick with the rest of Canada, via northern Maine. By agreement with the U.S. Government, as long as the passengers stay on the train, they do not have to go though customs, and Canadians and Americans do not have to present passports.
It is just as if they had remained in Canada the whole time.
“Luncheon is still around, but it has acquired something of a precious connotation” is incorrect. “Luncheon” has a formal connotation.
It is perfectly reasonable and normal to say that one attended “luncheon” in the White House, at Buckingham Palace, at 10 Downing Street”, at the Prime Minister’s house in Ottawa, Canberra, Wellington, or Tokyo, at the Governor’s house, at the home of the Lord Mayor of London, at the home of the Mayor of New York City, at the home of the Secretary General, or at the Vice President’s house.
The word “pix” is a clipping of “pictures”.
I don’t know why some people want to use “pics” or “picts”, because “pix” is a lot older. It was used in VARIETY magazine a long time ago, and VARIETY is the magazine of show business in and around Hollywood, California.
Also, I think that the Picts were a group of barbarians who raided England many times back during the Dark Ages. Did the Picts live in Scotland? Or maybe in Wales or Ireland?
Another clipping of “synchronize” is spelled “synch”.
This is prevelant in telecommunications, especially in such phrases as “synch byte”, “synch bit”, “in synch”, “out of synch”, and “synch loop”.
Otherwise, we tend to spell out words like “synchonize”, “synchonization”, and “synchronous”. For example a “synchronous data link” and an “asynchronous data link”. In simple terms, a synchronous data link is more complex and more expensive, but it has higher performance. An asynchronous data link is less complex and less costly, but it has lower performance. These are two of the things that communications engineers make trade-offs about.
You can count on me to get the spellings of words, abbreviations, acronyms, and initializations in the technological fields correct. Questions are welcome. Just e-mail me with them, and I will do my best to answer. If I don’t know, I will find out.
1. The closed form “taxicab” is also common in the UK. I guess you didn’t understand that I was emphasizing the two parts of the word.
2. When people overseas say “railway carriage,” what they really mean is “railway carriage.” All other standard dialects and languages in the world are not messed-up versions of American English. They are themselves. When people speaking French call a book a “livre,” what they really mean is “livre.” That is the French word for what we call a “book.”
I’m glad I’m not the only person who dislikes “mic” rather than “mike”, but it’s handy to know the origin.
I’ve always been an opponent of the mic abbreviation, exactly because it does not meet pronunciation reqs in any way, as MM says. Frankly though, it’s the only abbreviation I can recall ever seeing, and I was in the music biz for several years. I’ve never seen mike as far as I can remember, though it certainly should be the norm. “Open Mic Nights” abounded everywhere. Nary and “Open Mike Night” could be found.
Dale A. Wood
Maeve, I was making the point that the United States is the LEADING railroading country in the world, by far, and the American system is connected intimately with the Canadian system. Both countries use the same terminology.
Why can’t the people of the other English-speaking countries use the terminology of the world’s leader? Also of the leading continent? Setting up their own terminology on a minority basis just seems to be WRONGHEADED to me.
Why be different just for the sake of being different?
I think that most of the British, etc., finally decided that “aerodrome” was wrongheaded when the leading countries were using “airport”. In German, the word is “flughafen”, which means “air port” – quite parallel with “airport”.
Why can’t the people of the other English-speaking countries use the terminology of the world’s leader?
I have trouble disagreeing with you there, DAW. Especially when some of the other terminology is so god awful. Mum? Really? I’ve even read British writers who complain what a terrible word that is, and to call your mother no less! Tely? Or Telly– I think even they have come around to TV for the most part. And the calling cookies biscuits thing as well as calling the strangest pastes “pudding” just have to stop for the sake of all humanity.
I enjoyed the subtle humor in the recent postings of DAW and venqax but non-native speakers of English might have found difficulty in appreciating this fully. The use of a suitable smiley might have been helpful in drawing the attention of such speakers, especially to those with only a rudimentary familiarity with history, to the intended irony.
Dale A. Wood
When I wrote: “Why can’t the people of the other English-speaking countries use the terminology of the world’s leader?”, I was referring to railroading, where the United States and North America (adding in Canada) are definitely the world’s leader in miles (kilometers) or tracks, number of railroad cars, and number of locomotives.
I wasn’t claiming that North America is the world’s leader in everything.
It is true that the world’s leaders in the terminology of aviation have been the United States and France, with France contributing about four important words: fuselage, empennage, nacelle, and aerlion.
Of course, the airplane was invented in America by the Wright Brothers, hence most of the terminology came from here.
Some have claimed that a New Zealander flew before the Wright Brothers, but the man himself said that his plane was nothing like the achievement of the Wright Brothers. All the New Zealander did was to take off, lose control, and crash – lucky to survive. In contrast, the Wright Brothers had full control of their “Flyer”, and they made four successful fights with four successful landings, all on December 17, 1903. They also had independent witnesses from the U.S. Lifesaving Service at Kitty Hawk, N.C., and they took photographs of their flights.