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.
Want to improve your English in five minutes a day? Get a subscription and start receiving our writing tips and exercises daily!
Keep learning! Browse the Vocabulary category, check our popular posts, or choose a related post below:
Stop making those embarrassing mistakes! Subscribe to Daily Writing Tips today!
- You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!
- Subscribers get access to our archives with 800+ interactive exercises!
- You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!