What Is Aphesis?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Examples of aphesis in English.

Aphesis is the gradual loss of a short unstressed vowel at the beginning of a word. Adjective: aphetic. Aphesis is commonly regarded as a type of aphaeresis. Compare with apocope and syncope. The opposite of aphesis is prothesis.

Generally speaking, aphesis is more common in everyday speech than in formal varieties of spoken and written English. Nonetheless, many aphetic word forms have entered the vocabulary of Standard English.

In International English Usage (2005), Todd and Hancock observe that while clipping "tends to be rapid and usually applies to the loss of more than one syllable," aphesis is "thought to be a gradual process." 

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

From the Greek, "to let go"

Examples and Observations

  • "Cute is an aphetic form of acute; longshore is the truncated form of alongshore. This explains the American usage longshoreman for our [Australian] stevedore. Stevedore is itself an aphetic adaptation of the Spanish estivador, which derives from estivar: to stow a cargo.
    "Likewise, sample is an aphetic form of example; backward is an aphetic form of abackward; and vanguard was once avauntguard, from which avant-garde also derives.
    "Ninny is an aphetic and abbreviated form of an innocent. More recently, we have squire from esquire, specially for especially. In the language of the law, several ambiguous forms survive: vow and avow; void and avoid."
    (Julian Burnside, Word Watching. Thunder's Mouth Press, 2004)
  • The Aphetic Way as an Intensifier
    - "[As an adverb and intensifier] way is an aphetic form of away; it used to be printed 'way with an apostrophe, but is rarely so today. It means 'a great distance' or 'all the way,' as in We were way off the mark and We went way to the end of the trolley line. Some dictionaries consider this adverbial way colloquial, and indeed it often has a conversational or informal tone, but others consider it appropriate for use at all levels except the most formal or oratorical. It also frequently functions conversationally as an intensifier, as in She was way underprepared for the assignment and the student slang exclamations Way out! Way cool! and the like."
    (Kenneth G. Wilson, The Columbia Guide to Standard American English. Columbia University Press, 1993)
    - "I was tired—way tired. I had been on the road—on the run—I don't know—several weeks—a long time."
    (Andrew Klavan, The Long Way Home. Thomas Nelson, 2010)
    "I'm really way too lazy to try to locate all those ingredients."
    (Sarah Mlynowski, Frogs and French Kisses. Delacorte, 2006)
     "The widespread, if witless, use of 'way' to mean 'much' or 'far,' 'very' or 'especially' reveals how people favor simplicity over precision, easiness over elegance, popularity over individuality. It's unacceptable to use this sense of 'way' in your writing, and it's unbecoming in your speaking."
    (Robert Hartwell Fiske, Robert Hartwell Fiske's Dictionary of Unendurable English. Scribner, 2011)
  • An Aphetic Verbal Doppelganger
    "David Brinkley welcomed Vice President Al Gore on his Sunday morning ABC program with a cordial 'Thank you for coming.' Mr. Gore--as so many guests now do--answered with the aphetic 'thank you' with a slight emphasis on the you.
    "'You're welcome used to be the standard response to thank you,' writes Daniel Kocan of Orlando, Fla. 'Now thank you is the stock response to thank you. Since when, and why? Can you explain this recent doppelganger phenomenon?'
    "First to doppelganger: this is from the German for 'the ghostly double of a living person,' and is an apt description of the returned thank you. Next to the aphetic, or shortening of words or phrases by the elimination of the unstressed word or syllable: the I is lost in I thank you."
    (William Safire, "On Language: Let 'Er Rip." The New York Times, November 28, 1993)

Pronunciation: AFF-i-sis

Also Known As: aphaeresis, apherisis