Clipping Syllables to Sizes We Like

Posted on Tuesday, October 27, 2020, at 11:00 pm

The two following excerpts express the same thing. Which might you rather read or listen to?

Today I went to the doctor’s office for an exam because I thought I might be getting the flu. I skipped going to the gym after that. I stopped for gas and went home. Beth wanted me to help with her math homework, but I fell asleep watching a sitcom.

Today I went to the doctor’s office for an examination because I thought I might be getting influenza. I skipped going to the gymnasium after that. I stopped for gasoline and went home. Elizabeth wanted me to help with her mathematics homework, but I fell asleep watching a situation comedy.

While some people might prefer the extra formality and articulation in the second version, we’re guessing the majority would prefer the first. That is because it applies a popular linguistic technique: clipping.

Clipping is the reduction of a multisyllabic word to form a new one without changing the original meaning or part of speech. The clipped word represents the bigger word while making it easier to write, spell, and say.

Clipped words differ from abbreviations, which are often punctuated in representing the longer word (Feb. for February), and from contractions, which drop one or more letters to form the new word (don’t for do not).

When they are first coined, clipped words typically do not gain prompt acceptance for formal usage. They more often circulate as colloquialisms until their utility and staying power become well established.

One example is the clipping of the word bot from robot. According to, robot originated in the play R.U.R. in 1920. Robot remained intact until the clipped word bot surfaced between 1985 and 1990 and eventually gained entry into dictionaries.

Clipping typically involves one of four types: initial, final, medial, and complex.

  • Initial clipping clips syllables from the start and keeps the final part of a word, as with bot from robot and Beth from Elizabeth.
  • Final clipping, the most common type, clips syllables from the end and keeps the start of the longer word, as with exam from examination and gym from gymnasium.
  • Medial (middle) clipping, the least common type, combines initial and final clipping to form words with the middle component intact (e.g., flu from influenza, fridge from refrigerator [the middle component’s spelling is adjusted from frige to fridge to ensure proper pronunciation]).
  • Complex clipping involves combining and shortening phrases, as with sitcom from situation comedy and cablegram from cable telegram.

Being informal, most clipped words are formed through a communal process, particularly in the age of condensed communication within texting and social media. More-formal arenas such as academia, the sciences, and professional publishing will likely continue to eschew many such conveniences at first, but over time they too will find themselves aboard the bus—omnibus, we mean.


Pop Quiz

Using what you’ve learned in this article, identify the type of clipping applied to each word.

1. chute from parachute [final clipping / initial clipping / complex clipping]

2. sci-fi from science fiction [final clipping / initial clipping / complex clipping]

3. mic from microphone [final clipping / initial clipping / complex clipping]

4. lab from laboratory [final clipping / initial clipping / complex clipping]



Pop Quiz Answers

1. initial clipping

2. complex clipping

3. final clipping

4. final clipping

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