Clippings: How to Spell Words We Commonly Shorten

Impress your friends and amaze your family.

My name is … Mick?

Speakers of English tend to shorten or truncate longer words, both in writing and speaking. That’s the way we are; it’s normal. We call such truncated words clippings. Sometimes we drop the initial syllable or syllables. Examples are airplaneplane; hamburgerburger; and telephone → phone.[1] When we drop the ending syllable or syllables, we have, for example, popular pop; publicpub; and techniciantech.[2] Occasionally, we have both the beginning and the ending of the word dropped, leaving us with influenzaflu; and refrigeratorfrig. Wait. Frig? Get me a cold one from the frig? Hmmm. More on that one below.

When it comes to writing clipped words, how do we spell them? Here’s the general principle: We most often spell a clipped word as it sounds, not necessarily as a sliced off version of the longer original. Occasionally, therefore, the spelling will be a little different. Here are three common examples: favorite, microphone, and refrigerator.

Favorite—fave. “Rocky road ice cream is my fave” (not fav, which, the way I hear it in my head, rhymes with fab). Remember: we spell clipped forms as they sound.

Microphone—mike. “Please turn on the mike” (not the mic). When I read mic for microphone, I hear “mick.” Now, I understand it’s tempting to write mic—and it’s fairly commonbut aside from the tendency to hear “mick,” consider this argument against that spelling: What do we do when mic is used as a verb and written in past tense or as a present participle? “The sound tech miced the singer”? (That conjures up some interesting images.) Or “We are micing all candidates on this evening’s debate panel.” (And after that will we be slicing and dicing them?) Let’s solve that and spell it mike.

Refrigerator—fridge. “The potato salad is in the fridge” (not the frig). When I see frig I hear a word in my head that rhymes with brig (where they lock up misbehavers onboard ship in the US Navy) or trig (short for trigonometry). The refrigerator ain’t a friggin’ frig. It’s a fridge, dadgummit!

Here’s another fun fact about frig. (Shhhh . . . I’m whispering so nearby children won’t hear; this is rated PG-13.). According to my fave everyday dictionary, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate 11th edition, frig is a verb that comes from the Middle English fryggen, “to wiggle,” and is “often vulgar: to copulate—sometimes used in the present participle as a meaningless intensive” (as, for example, in my sentence above—“The refrigerator ain’t a friggin’ frig”).

So let’s please keep our fridges and our frigs separate. Hand me a mike and I’ll make that announcement. Δ

Can you think of other clipped words that are (or should be) spelled as they sound? Please comment below. Thanks.

[1] I’m grateful for Bryan A. Garner’s informing me in his outstanding book The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation (2016) that there is a word for this type of clipped word: aphaeresis (ə-fer-ə-səs).

[2] This sort of clipped form is called an apocope (ə-pok– ə-pee). (Thank you again, Mr. Garner.)

© 2016 by Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.





Author: Dean Christensen

Educator, copyeditor, writer, baseball bug, word lover, book hound, guitar picker, classical music aficionado, classic rock 'n' roll and movie buff, sinner, saint, former this, used-to-be that, and future who-knows-what. Every day is an adventure in learning how to make the world a better place--grammatically, anyway.

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