Word Subtraction

By Sharon

We all know you can form new words by adding existing words together, such as combining boat and house to make boathouse or houseboat. But did you know that a lot of common words are also formed by subtraction or taking a piece away from a longer word?

The linguistic term for this is clipping. It means shortening an existing word to form a new word. The clipped form has the same meaning as the original word and becomes a word in its own right, rather than an abbreviation. This means it can be combined with other words to form compounds

Here are some examples of clipped forms

biopic – biographical picture
bra -brassière
burger – hamburger
bus – omnibus
cello – violoncello
exam – examination
flu – influenza
fridge – refrigerator
gas – gasoline
gym – gymnasium
lab – laboratory
math – mathematics (clipped to maths in British English)
memo – memorandum
mob – mobile vulgus (fickle crowd in Latin)
movie – moving picture
pants – pantaloons
phone – telephone
piano – pianoforte
plane – airplane
pram – perambulator
sitcom – situation comedy
tie – necktie
typo – typographical error

There are lots more, of course, but these are clipped forms that have more or less replaced the longer original in everyday speech. Can you think of some others to add to the list?

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10 Responses to “Word Subtraction”

  • Joris

    Hey, this is a nice list, but shouldn’t “plane” be substracted from “aeroplane” rather than airplane?

  • Sharon

    Depends on which side of the pond you live, Joris. 🙂

  • A Tentative Personal Finance Blog

    How about den.

  • Celebrienne

    What about “blog” (-> weblog)? 😉

  • Daniel

    Good one with blog.

  • Sharon

    Not to mention, splog. Clipping can also be used for contractions of more than one word.

  • Reginald Smith

    I think you should have words like subtract and minus plus more words

  • ize

    Two words shortened then coined together is called blending. smoke+fog=smog

  • Kathrine

    Deli from delicatessen. And cafe from cafeteria. Hm, I think it’s lunch time!

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