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Clipped Words

5

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

About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian Wasko

Brian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.

View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Alison Badger
    Alison Badger06-26-2016

    Why are people who continue to have standards and maintain the status quo of our beautiful language called “snooty”? I never tell people that I went to college anymore, let alone WHERE I went to college as they immediately assume things about me that are completely untrue,not the least of which is that I am a snob and an intellectual one to boot. Are you that completely out of touch with humanity that you think someone who was better educated than you (no matter how or where) is a threat? I hope someday you have to rely on such a person for your very life to teach you the lesson that we are all in the same boat here. Don’t stand up, it might tip over! I think you need a good dunking.

  2. Rhonda Barfield
    Rhonda Barfield06-22-2016

    I’d never thought about this! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Devon Noel Lee
    Devon Noel Lee06-22-2016

    Whew… my shorter words are not cause for thought police citation! BTW… glad to see posts from y’all again. Either y’all to a break or Feedly has not sent messages to me. Anyway.. thanks for a great reading. Looking forward to more

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko06-22-2016

      It’s good to be back. I took a full-time teaching job this past year at a private school in the area. It was a time-consuming job, and I just couldn’t find the time to keep up the block. I’m back in action now though.

  4. Paul Schwarz
    Paul Schwarz06-22-2016

    This reminds me of a snooty newspaper editor/columnist who insisted on saying that he had sent an “electronic mail message,” when we readers knew he had sent an “e-mail.”

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