Definition of Clipping in Linguistics

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Deli is the clipped form of the word delicatessen. Other common examples of clipped words include exam, fax, flu, doc, ad, lab, and vet. (Blend Images-Ariel Skelley/Getty Images)

In morphology, clipping is the process of forming a new word by dropping one or more syllables from a polysyllabic word, such as cell from cellular phone. Also known as a clipped form, clipped word, shortening, and truncation.

A clipped form generally has the same denotative meaning as the word it comes from, but it's regarded as more colloquial and informal. On occasion, a clipped form may replace the original word in everyday usage—such as the use of piano in place of pianoforte.

From the Old Norse, "cut"

Examples and Observations of Clipping

  • "Some of the most common products of clipping are names—Liz, Ron, Rob, Sue, and so on. Clipping is especially popular in the speech of students, where it has yielded forms like prof for professor, phys-ed for physical education, poli-sci for political science, and burger for hamburger. However, many clipped forms have also been accepted in general usage: doc, ad, auto, lab, sub, deli, porn, demo, and condo.

    "A more recent example of this sort that has become part of general English vocabulary is fax, from facsimile (meaning 'exact copy or reproduction')."
    (W. O'Grady, J. Archibald, M. Aronoff, and J. Rees-Miller, Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction, 4th ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001)
  • Other examples of clipped forms in English include biz, caps, celebs, deli, exam, flu, gator, hippo, hood, info, intro, lab, limo, mayo, max, perm, photo, ref, reps, rhino, sax, stats, temp, thru, tux, ump, veep, and vet.
  • "As time-savers and breath-savers, clipped words defy the pedants and win their way to respectability. This has been true for a long time--witness piano from pianoforte and cello from violoncello."
    (Theodore Bernstein, Miss Thistlebottom's Hobgoblns, 1971)
  • "Clipping. A part of a word which serves for the whole, such as ad and phone. These examples illustrate the two chief types: the first part is kept (the commoner type, as in demo, exam, pub, Gill) and the last part is kept, as in fridge and flu. There are also several clippings which retain material from more than one part of the word, such as maths (UK), gents, and specs. . . . Several clipped forms also show adaptation, such as fries (from French fried potatoes), Betty (from Elizabeth), and Bill (from William)."
    (David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, 2003)
  • Swift on the Barbarous Custom of Clipping
    "[E]ven here in London, they clip their Words after one Manner about the Court, another in the City, and a third in the Suburbs; and in a few Years, it is probable, will all differ from themselves, as Fancy or Fashion shall direct. . . .

    "This perpetual Disposition to shorten our Words, by retrenching the Vowels, is nothing else but a tendency to lapse into the Barbarity of those Northern Nations from whom we are descended, and whose Languages labour all under the same Defect."
    (Jonathan Swift, "A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue," 1712)

Pronunciation: KLIP-ing

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Definition of Clipping in Linguistics." ThoughtCo, Apr. 16, 2018, Nordquist, Richard. (2018, April 16). Definition of Clipping in Linguistics. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition of Clipping in Linguistics." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 27, 2018).