Shortening – Abbreviation – Back-formation

Shortening, Abbreviation & Back-formation

This comparatively new way of word-building has achieved a high degree of productivity nowadays, especially in American English. Shortenings (or contracted words-сокращенные) are produced in two different ways.

1. The first is to make a new word from a syllable (rarer, two) of the original word. The latter may lose its beginning (as in phone made from telephone, fence from defence), its ending (as in hols from holidays, vac from vacation, props from properties, ad from advertisement) or both the beginning and ending (as in flu from influenza, fridge from refrigerator).

2. The second way of shortening is to make a new word from the initial letters of a word group: U.N.O. from the United Nations Organisation, B.B.C. from the British Broadcasting Corporation, M.P. from Member of Parliament. This type is called initial shortenings. They are found not only among formal words, such as the ones above, but also among colloquialisms and slang. So, g. f. is a shortened word made from the compound girl-friend. The somewhat odd-looking words like flu, pram, lab, M. P., V-day, H-bomb are called shortenings, contractions or curtailed words and are produced by the way of word-building called shortening (contraction). The shortening of words involves the shortening of both words and word-groups. Distinction should he made between shortening of a word in written speech (graphical abbreviation) and in the sphere of oral intercourse (lexical abbreviation).


Lexical abbreviations may be used both in written and in oral speech. Lexical abbreviation is the process of forming a word out of the initial elements (letters, morphemes) of a word combination by a simultaneous operation of shortening and compounding. Clipping consists in cutting off two or more syllables of a word. Words that have been shortened at the end are called apocope (doc-doctor, mit-mitten, vet-veterinary). Words that have been shortened at the beginning are called aphaeresis (phone-telephone). Words in which some syllables or sounds have been omitted from the middle are called syncope (ma’m – madam, specs – spectacles). Sometimes a combination of these types is observed (tec-detective, frig-refrigerator).

Blendings (blends, fusions or portmanteau words) may be defined as formation that combine two words that include the letters or sounds they have in common as a connecting element (slimnastics < slim+gymnasttcs; mimsy < miserable+flimsy; galumph < gallop+triumph; neutopia < new+utopia). The process of formation is also called telescoping. Graphical abbreviations are the result of shortening of words and word-groups only in written speech while orally the corresponding full forms are used. They are used for the economy of space and effort in writing.

The oldest group of graphical abbreviations in English is of Latin origin. In Russian this type of abbreviation is not typical. In these abbreviations in the spelling Latin words are shortened, while orally the corresponding English equivalents are pronounced in the full form,e.g. for example (Latin exampli gratia), a.m. – in the morning (ante meridiem), No – number (numero), i. e. – that is (id est) etc. Some graphical abbreviations of Latin origin have different English equivalents in different contexts, e.g. p.m. can be pronounced “in the afternoon” (post meridiem) and “after death” (post mortem).

There are also graphical abbreviations of native origin, where in the spelling we have abbreviations of words and word-groups of the corresponding English equivalents in the full form. We have several semantic groups of them : ? days of the week, e.g. Mon – Monday ? names of months, e.g. Apr – April. ? names of counties in UK, e.g. Yorks – Yorkshire ? names of states in USA, e.g. Ala – Alabama. ? names of address, e.g. Mr., Mrs. ? military ranks, e.g. capt. -captain, col. – colonel. ? scientific degrees, e.g. B.A. – Bachelor of Arts, ? units of time, length, weight, e.g. f. / ft -foot/feet, sec. – second.

Initial abbreviations. Initialisms are the bordering case between graphical and lexical abbreviations. When they are used for some duration of time they acquire the shortened form of pronouncing and become closer to lexical abbreviations, e.g. BBC is as a rule pronounced in the shortened form. Initialisms are denoted in different ways. Very often they are expressed in the way they are pronounced in the language of their origin, e.g. SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) was for a long time used in Russian as СОЛТ, now a translation variant is used (ОСВ -Договор об ограничении стратегических вооружений). This type of initialisms borrowed into other languages is preferable, e.g. UFO – НЛО. There are three types of initialisms in English: ? initialisms with alphabetical reading, such as UK, BUP, CND etc ? initialisms which are read as if they are words, e.g. UNESCO, UNO, NATO etc. ? initialisms which coincide with English words in their sound form, such initialisms are called acronyms, e.g. CLASS (Computor-based Laboratory for Automated School System).

Back-Formation (Reversion). The earliest examples of this type of word-building are the verb to “beg” that was made from the French borrowing “beggar”. In this case the verb was made from the noun by subtracting what was mistakenly associated with the English suffix -er. This type of word-building received the name of back-formation or reversion because it was always taken for granted that any noun denoting profession or occupation is certain to have a corresponding verb of the same root but in this case the verb was produced from a noun by subtraction. Later examples of back-formation are (to butle from butler, to baby-sit from baby-sitter, to force-land from forced landing).