Common Clipped Words and Their Origins

How many of these do you know?

busI wrote an article last summer for this blog about “clipped” words—longer words that are commonly shortened—and how to spell them. It’s easy to see how many multi-syllable words came to be abbreviated, because that’s the nature of informal communications. It’s is how we talk, and the spellings of most clipped forms are straightforward. For example, we obviously get phone from telephone, photo from photograph, and bio from biography—all easy to understand and simple to spell.

In some instances, the spelling of a clipped form changes based on how the word is pronounced, how it sounds to the ear. For example, the clipped form of refrigerator is spelled fridge (not frig), favorite becomes fave (not fav), microphone is shortened to mike (not mic), and bicycle and tricycle become bike and trike (not bic and tric).

We often don’t realize how many common, everyday words are actually abbreviated forms of multi-syllable words. So are you up for a little quiz? Do you know the full word from which we get the following twelve clipped forms? Some have been part of the English vernacular for 150–200 years. (I can assure you, I didn’t know a few of these myself.) Answers are below.[1]

  1. bus
  2. cello
  3. fan (as in baseball fan)
  4. pants
  5. prep
  6. pub
  7. quad (as in the enclosed outdoor square typically found on a school campus)
  8. quotes
  9. specs
  10. taxi
  11. typo
  12. zoo

Well, how did you do? Did you know about bus, for instance, or cello, or zoo?

A long time ago, linguists, lexicographers (people who compile dictionaries for a living), and English teachers frowned on the use of any abbreviated forms, but the practice is widely accepted today. As in the case of all word choices, however, for the purpose of effective communication, clarity is the number one rule. It’s best to spell out any word that our readers might not readily understand. Δ


[1]Answers: 1. omnibus; 2. violoncello; 3. fanatic; 4. pantaloons; 5. prepare or preparatory; 6. public house; 7. quadrangle; 8. quotation marks or quotations; 9. spectacles (i.e., eyeglasses) or specifications; 10. taximeter cab; 11. typographer or typographical (error); 12. zoological garden. Sources: R. W. Burchfield’s The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, 3rd edition, p. 3; Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition.

© 2017 by Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.

Author: Dean Christensen

Educator, copyeditor, writer, voiceover guy, baseball bug, logophile, classical music afficionado, classic rock 'n' roll lover, classic-movie buff, bibliophile, former this, used to be that, and future who knows what. Every day is an adventure in learning.

2 thoughts on “Common Clipped Words and Their Origins”

  1. Hi Dean. I like the clipped words for more informal writing. Make’s the writing seem more personal. But, non-clipped words do make communication clearer. Thank you for the insight.

    Like

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