Maybe it’s a sign that English speakers and writers are lazy, but we have a historic tendency to shorten long words. It tends to start in informal, spoken settings, but eventually the clipped forms make their way into formal, published writing. That’s when the purists object. But nobody really minds the purists. Eventually, the clipped form becomes preferred and we begin to forget what the original word was.
Burger, plane, bike, phone, gym–does anyone not use these words far more than their multi-syllabic original forms? Has anyone ever said, “I’m going to the gymnasium after work”?
Teens (not teenagers) these days love to clip words in texting and conversation (Those shoes are totes adorbs). My kids like to refer to these shortened forms as abbreves. That’s clearly just faddish wordplay. George Orwell, on the other hand, presaged a more ominous kind of clipping in what he called Newspeak in his dystopian classic, 1984, where the Ministry of Truth becomes minitrue, and what we call thought crime is known as crimethink. Orwell was concerned about language and its manipulation by malevolent authorities seeking to control thought, but I don’t think he’d object to the sort of shorthand version of words that gain popularity these days.
Here are some of the more common words that we have created via clipping.
|ad – advertisement||memo – memorandum|
|auto – automobile||mike – microphone|
|bike – bicycle||mum – chrysanthemum|
|burger – hamburger||pen – penitentiary|
|bus – omnibus||phone – telephone|
|champ – champion||photo – photograph|
|con – convict||pike – turnpike|
|co-op – cooperative||plane – airplane|
|copter – helicopter||ref – referee|
|cuke – cucumber||rev – revolution|
|dorm – dormitory||rhino – rhinoceros|
|exam – examination||specs – spectacles; specifications|
|flu – influenza||stats – statistics|
|fridge – refrigerator||stereo – stereophonics|
|gas – gasoline||sub – submarine|
|grad – graduate||taxi – taxicab|
|gym – gymnasium||teen – teenager|
|hippo – hippopotamus||tie – necktie|
|lab – laboratory||tux – tuxedo|
|limo – limousine||typo – typographical error|
|lunch – luncheon||van – caravan|
|math – mathematics||vet – veteran; veterinarian|