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Submorphemic elements in the formation of acronyms, blends and clippings

Ingrid Fandrych

Abstracts

Mainstream word-formation is concerned with the formation of new words from morphemes. As morphemes are full linguistic signs, the resulting neologisms are transparent: speakers can deduce the meanings of the new formations from the meanings of their constituents. Thus, morphematic word-formation processes can be analysed in terms of their modifier/head relationship, with A + B > AB, and AB = (a kind of) B. This pattern applies to compounding and affixation. There are, however, certain word-formation processes that are not morpheme-based and that do not have a modifier/head structure. Acronyms like NATO are formed from the initial letters of word groups; blends like motel ‘mix’ or conflate submorphemic elements; clippings like prof shorten existing words. In order to analyse these word-formation processes, we need concepts below the morpheme level. This paper will analyse the role played by elements below the morpheme level in the production of these non-morphematic word-formation processes which have been particularly productive in the English language since the second half of the 20th century.

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I am grateful to Alison Love, Francina Moloi (both National University of Lesotho) and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier version of this paper.

1. Words, lexemes and the elements of word-formation

1According to Marchand (1969: 1), the word is “the smallest independent, indivisible, and meaningful unit of speech, susceptible of transposition in sentences.” A more precise term is the lexeme. Lexemes are “the items listed in the lexicon, or ‘ideal dictionary’, of a language” (Cruse 1986: 49):

[A] lexeme is a family of lexical units; a lexical unit is the union of a single sense with a lexical form; a lexical form is an abstraction from a set of word forms (or alternatively – it is a family of word forms) which differ only in respect of inflections. (Cruse 1986: 80),

2The lexeme is a ‘word’ in the sense of “abstract vocabulary item” (Katamba 1993: 17f), the inflected realization of which is used in sentences. Similarly, Crystal (1995: 118) defines the lexeme as “a unit of lexical meaning, which exists regardless of any inflectional endings it may have or the number of words it may contain”, and Haspelmath (2002: 13) defines the lexeme as an abstract “dictionary word” consisting of a “set of word forms”, while a word-form is a concrete “text word” which “belongs to one lexeme”.

3McArthur’s (1992: 599) definition of the lexeme is remarkable for its inclusion of non-morphematic processes; according to him, a lexeme is “a unit in the lexicon or vocabulary of a language. Its form is governed by sound and writing or print, its content by meaning and use”; lexemes can be single words, parts of words (auto-, -logy), “groups of words” (blackbird, kick the bucket), and “shortened forms” (flu, UK) (1992: 600). In the context of the present study, the distinction between the terms ‘lexeme’, ‘lexical unit’ and ‘word’ is not of central importance, as the focus will not be on inflectional or derivational issues. I will use the term ‘lexeme’ for the end-product of word-formation processes, be they morpheme-based or not.

4Marchand’s (1969: 2) main focus in his classic work on word-formation is on ‘regular’, that is, morphematic, word-formation processes:

Word-formation is that branch of the science of language which studies the patterns on which a language forms new lexical units, i.e. words. Word-formation can only be concerned with composites which are analysable both formally and semantically…

5However, he admits (1969: 2) that there are formations which are not morpheme-based: “This book … will deal with two major groups: 1) words formed as grammatical syntagmas, i.e. combinations of full linguistic signs, and 2) words which are not grammatical syntagmas, i.e. which are not made up of full linguistic signs.” His “non-grammatical” word-formation processes (his category 2) comprise “expressive symbolism”, blending, clipping, rime and ablaut gemination, and “word-manufacturing” (Marchand, 1969: 2f). Thus, Marchand (1969: 451) maintains that blends, for example, are monemes, as they are not analysable in terms of constituent morphemes. Numerous more recent studies agree with Marchand, for example Bauer (1983: 232) who calls non-morphematic word-formation processes “unpredictable”, and Aronoff (1981: 20) who labels them as “oddities”.

6This has even led to a certain debate about whether non-morphematic word-formation processes should be part of word-formation. Štekauer (1998: 1), for instance, observes that

[l]inguists differ in their opinions as to whether word-formation is to be restricted to affixation, with compounding being shifted to syntax, whether such processes as back-formation, conversion (zero-derivation), blending, clipping etc., are to be included within the theory of word-formation, and if so – what their status is with regard to the ‘main’ word-formation processes, etc.

7And he decides to “exclude collocations and non-morpheme-based formations from the Word-Formation Component” (Štekauer 1998: 164).

8Haspelmath (2002: 2f) also excludes non-morphematic word-formation processes, such as acronyms, blends and clippings, from the central focus of word-formation, as morphology is “the study of systematic covariation in the form and meaning of words” or “the study of the combination of morphemes to yield words” with morphemes as “[t]he smallest meaningful constituents of words that can be identified” (Haspelmath 2002: 3). However,

[w]ords are mirrors of their times. By looking at the areas in which the vocabulary of a language is expanding in a given period, we can form a fairly accurate impression of the chief preoccupations of society at that time and the points at which the boundaries of human endeavor are being advanced. (Ayto 1999: iv)

  • 1 See also Fandrych 2007 for a discussion of non-morphematic word-formation processes in electronic c (...)

9According to Ayto (1999: ix), acronyms and blends are symbols of the second half of the 20th century. Acronyms, in particular, have become increasingly productive, due to the use of computers and electronic communication1.

10In their book about word-formation intended for the wider public, Steinmetz & Kipfer (2006: 38-65; 159-165) even discuss acronymy, blending and clipping before compounding and derivation (Steinmetz & Kipfer 2006: 188-203). This makes sense in a book intended for the wider, “lay” public, due to the catchiness of non-morphematic word-formation processes. They emphasize the use-relatedness of non-morphematic word-formation processes, their economy (Steinmetz & Kipfer 2006: 40), humour (Steinmetz & Kipfer 2006: 47) and their increasing popularity in the 20th century.

11Traditionally, the morpheme has been defined as a unit of form and meaning, a full linguistic sign. Thus, Bolinger (1950: 120, 124) states that “… meaning is the criterion of the morpheme”, and that “[…] meanings vary in their degree of attachment to a given form.” Even today, morphemes are usually defined as the smallest meaningful linguistic units (see, for example, Katamba 1993: 20 and 24; Lipka 1973: 181 and 2002: 85; Marchand 1969: 5f; Mugdan 1994: 2546; Plag 2003: 10 and 20f; Stockwell & Minkova 2001: 57). Stockwell & Minkova (2001: 60) are representative in their summary:

These, then, are the four essential properties of all morphemes: (1) they are packaged with meaning; (2) they can be recycled; (3) they may be represented by any number of syllables; and (4) morphemes ‘morph’, i.e., they may have phonetically different shapes.

12However, not all linguists agree with this definition. Adams’ (1973: 140ff) morpheme definition centres around the capacity of morphemes to enter new formations; therefore, her morpheme concept is much more flexible and not restricted to full linguistic signs. For example, she analyses formations like deceive, recur, consist as consisting of the morphemes: de-, re-, con-, and -ceive, -cur, -sist. Aronoff (1981: 7ff) also deviates from the above definition: as words are characterised by certain idiosyncratic features, not all morphemes carry meaning, while words are “minimally meaningful”. In his words: “Note that we have not abandoned the concept of the morpheme. It still remains, but not always as a sign” (Aronoff 1981: 14). He defines the morpheme as a “phonetic string which can be connected to a linguistic entity outside that string. What is important is not its meaning, but its arbitrariness” (Aronoff 1981: 15).

13In the present study, the concept of ‘morpheme’ will be understood in its most common meaning, that is, as referring to minimally meaningful linguistic units. However, as there are word-formation processes which do not make use of morphemes, the contributions of smaller units than the morpheme to these word-formation processes will be discussed: initials in the case of acronyms, splinters in the case of blends, and free splinters in the case of clippings.

2. Non-morphematic word-formation

14According to Fandrych (2004), non-morphematic word-formation is defined

as any word-formation process that is not morpheme-based …, that is, which uses at least one element which is not a morpheme; this element can be a splinter, a phonæstheme, part of a syllable, an initial letter, a number or a letter used as a symbol. (Fandrych 2004: 18; emphasis in original)

  • 2 Strictly speaking, onomatopoeia (imitation, sound symbolism and reduplication) are also non-morphem (...)

15In English, the major non-morphematic word-formation processes are acronymy, blending, clipping and onomatopœia2.

  • 3 For a more detailed review of the most relevant literature on non-morphematic word-formation proces (...)

16The literature3 on non-morphematic word-formation processes has mostly been structurally oriented – with the exception of Fandrych 2004, who presents a multi-level approach to non-morphematic word-formation processes, incorporating socio-pragmatic and textual aspects – , and many publications analyse one process in isolation (Algeo 1975, Baum 1955 and 1962, Jung 1987, McCully & Holmes 1988 and Cannon 1989: acronyms; Berman 1961, Schwarz 1970, Soudek 1978 and Cannon 1986 and 2000: blends; Heller & Macris 1968, McArthur 1988, Kobler-Trill 1994 and Kreidler 1979, 1994 and 2000: shortenings). Other recent works are situated within the generative framework, in particular several publications on rhyme and ablaut reduplications, and phonetic symbolism (Marantz 1982, Alderete et al. 1999, Dienhart 1999, and Minkova 2002 and Gries 2004). A third stream within the literature uses the cognitive approach to analyse certain non-morphematic word-formation processes (Kelly 1998, Lehrer 1996, Ravid & Hanauer 1998 and López Rúa 2002).

17In some of the literature, acronyms and blends are categorised as subtypes of each other, for example in Stockwell & Minkova (2001: 7):

Acronyms … are a special type of blend. A typical acronym takes the first sound form each of several words and makes a new word from those initial sounds. If the resulting word is pronounced like any other word it is a true acronym … Often, however, to make an acronym pronounceable, we take not just the initial sounds but, for example, the first consonant and the first vowel together. … These are half-way between blends and acronyms.

18Similarly, Plag (2003: 13) states that blends

are amalgamations of parts of different words, such as smog (← smoke/fog) or modem (← modulator/demodulator). Blends based on orthography are called acronyms, which are coined by combining the initial letters of compounds or phrases into a pronounceable new word (NATO, UNESCO, etc.). Simple abbreviations like UK or USA are also quite common. The classification of blending either as a special case of compounding or as a case of non-affixational derivation is not so clear … we will argue that it is best described as derivation. (emphases in original)

  • 4 Incidentally, Plag’s analysis of smog and modem makes no mention of overlap (see also below).

19In view of the many differences between blends and acronyms – not least the mediums in which they originate, this is not convincing4.

20Some researchers try to explain acronyms, blends and clippings in terms of their orthographical and/or phonological structures, using, for example, syllable boundaries to explain blend structure. One such attempt is by Plag (2003: 116-129) who attempts to explain acronyms, blends and clippings as “Prosodic Morphology”. McCully & Holmes (1988) claim that acronyms are formed on the basis of phonological rules. This is hardly convincing, as it is one of their special features that most acronyms are formed consciously and with pen and paper in hand – especially reverse acronyms, such as PIN, PLAN and top (see below). Similarly, Kelly (1998) seeks “evidence that certain patterns in blends can be predicted quite well from specific cognitive and linguistic principles” (1998: 580), focusing on “three aspects of blend structure: the order of blend components, the boundary between them, and similarities between boundary phonemes”. Kelly (1998: 586) finds that “breakpoints in blends do not fall randomly. Rather, they cluster at major phonological joints, such as syllable, rime, and onset boundaries”. Similarly, Gries (2004) claims that “the most prototypical examples of blends involve linear blending with a shortening of both source words at some point of (graphemic or phonemic) overlap” (Gries 2004: 645) and that there is a “strong graphemic influence on blend formation” (Gries 2004: 656).

  • 5 With the exception of very common items, such as NATO, motel and prof, all the examples used in thi (...)

21However, as the analysis below will show, the attempts to analyse acronyms, blends and clippings as sub-categories of each other or in terms of their orthographical and/or phonological make-up is not convincing. In each of the three non-morphematic word-formation processes under discussion, we can identify specific submorphemic elements which are involved in their formation and contribute in various ways to their subtypes: initials, splinters and free splinters. Therefore, the next sections will discuss the contributions made by these elements to the formation of acronyms, blends and clippings, using examples from the collection presented in the Appendix5.

3. Acronyms and initials

  • 6 For the purposes of this study, I will use the cover term ‘acronym’ to include both those formation (...)

22Acronyms (or “letter words” – see McArthur 1992: 11 and 599) consist of initial letters of longer words or phrases6. Not all initials of the longer phrase are always used in the acronym: function words tend to be ignored in order to keep the acronym manageable (for example, WLSA ‘Women and Law in Southern Africa’). One feature that sets acronyms apart from all other word-formation processes is the fact that they are formed in the written mode – this becomes evident from the consciously formed and ironic examples discussed below (see also Algeo 1975 and Kreidler 2000: 957). Cannon (1989:108) summarises the most salient features of acronyms as follows:

[…] an acronym must come from a source with at least three constituents, where a combining form can be a constituent (ASP ‘Anglo-Saxon Protestant’). Not more than two initial letters/sounds of some or all of the constituents can be retained, though an exception of three or even four is permitted if the majority of the reduction typifies acronymy.

23The submorphemic elements that constitute acronyms are, quite simply, the initial letters of longer phrases, and they represent the words they stand for in the new formation. There are some exceptions, however, such as acronyms which do not use all the initials they could use, as in ESPRIT (‘European Strategic Programme for Research and Development in Information Technology’) or cases in which additional letter(s) or even syllables are used, such as Soweto (‘South-Western Townships’). Occasionally, the ordering of the letters in an acronym is changed in the interest of pronounceability and homonymy, for example:

MISHAP – ‘Missiles

High-Speed Assembly Program’
↑____↑        (Time, 28 July 1961, p. 39)

24Creativity plays a major role in the formation of some acronyms. Cannon (1994: 81) observes that

[a]cronyms are among the most creative, freewheeling creations in vocabulary today. They differ from most other items in that they are never lapses and are seldom formed by analogy, but are consciously made. Organizations sometimes choose a proper-sounding name by assembling a sequence of words to effect the desired collocation […]

25Ironic intentions are also the driving force behind some jocular re-interpretations, such as Fiat (‘Fix It Again, Tony’ instead of ‘Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino’), and in-group slang-formations, such as snafu (‘situation normal, all fouled up’), TGIF (‘Thank God It’s Friday’) and OTT (‘over-the-top’). Innovative and ironic pronunciations also occur, as the following example demonstrates:

These are the men and women of the year-old Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC). … Each day, officials at TTIC (pronounced tee-tic) examine 5,000 to 6,000 pieces of intelligence … (Time, 29 March 2004, p. 33).

26Acronyms ‘behave’ like normal lexemes, that is, they can be inflected, as Pinker (1999: 28) observes:

[…] acronyms, like phrases, can turn into bona fide words as a language evolves, as in TV, VCR, UFO, SOB, and PC. Once an acronym has become a word there is no reason not to treat it as a word, including adding a plural suffix to it. Would anyone really talk about three JP (justices of the peace), five POW (prisoners of war), or nine SOB (sons of bitches)?

27In addition, acronyms can themselves become parts of new, multiple formations, as exemplified in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Examples of Multiple Word-Formations Containing Acronyms

Acronymy

SCR

Blending

ABB, AIM, InteracTV, No-K., Y2.1K

(Multiple) Compounding

CD-Rom joint venture

Conversion

To R.S.V.P, to TKO

Prefixation

Un-PC

Suffixation

Foi-able, MSTies, OK-ness

28According to Wales (1991: 5), “[i]t is fashionable to suggest a word already in the language, and one which is humorous or punningly appropriate (e.g. CISSY: ‘Campaign to Impede Sexual Stereotyping in the Young’).” Forms like CISSY take advantage of the fact that, in many cases, the full forms of acronyms are often lost rather quickly; this can be exploited through the formation of consciously formed ‘reverse’ acronyms which are homonymous (or, sometimes, homophonous) with existing words (see also Ungerer 1991a and 1991b). Reverse acronyms, such as ABC, PLAN, whizzo and yummies are playful and ironic and have a strong mnemonic effect. This loss of primary motivation through the severed link between the full form and the acronym is evident in compounds such as PIN (‘personal identification number’) number and PESP (‘Pre-Entry Science Programme’) programme. The pleonastic repetition of one element of the acronym as head of the new compound is a clear indication that speakers are not aware of the underlying phrase which formed the basis of the acronym.

29Thus initials, the smallest graphemic units in the English language, are the building blocks for one of the most creative word-formation processes in the language. As we have seen, initials represent entire words – that is, they are not, strictly speaking, ‘meaningful units’. Maybe it is this ‘independence’ of initials which permits language users to form creative new lexemes and which leads to the common loss of primary motivation, thus opening the door for homonymy, reinterpretation and irony.

4. Blends and splinters

30Both acronyms and blends are popular in electronic communication: “It is not uncommon for new technical terms to be created by blending” (Stockwell & Minkova 2001: 6; see also Fandrych 2007 for a more detailed discussion). The name ‘blending’ is metaphorical, as blends ‘mix’ random parts of existing lexemes (‘splinters’) – structurally and semantically – and there is the additional semantic component blending/mixture. In this sense, they are iconic as their forms reflect their referents.

31Most blends (also ‘portmanteau-words’ from French portmanteau – ‘suitcase’, ‘coat-carrier’) consist of two elements, a characteristic which places them in the vicinity of compounds (see Marchand 1969: 451: “compounding by means of curtailed words”) – but, unlike compounds, their constituents are not full morphemes but parts of lexemes which makes them more irregular and unpredictable. Kreidler (1994: 5029f) defines blending as follows:

Sometimes two words are clipped simultaneously and united to form a ‘blend’. The two source words may be syntagmatically related … or paradigmatically related. … Many blends … are consciously composed. Formations like these are now much favored in advertising and in the popular press.

  • 7 With the exception of graphic blends, such as absa-lute (see below).

32Blending involves “telescoping”, usually overlap, and “there must be some shortening of the source items” (Cannon 2000: 952) and “… the fusing usually occurs at a syllabic juncture, though the phonemic sharing by both splinters somewhat blurs this fact” (Cannon 2000: 953). McArthur (1992: 137) includes hyphenated formations like hi-tech (or high-tec) under blends. However, in my opinion, such formations lack the crucial precondition for blends: the iconic mixing of splinters (see above), as the hyphen actually separates the two constituents. Following Fandrych (2004: 28), I propose to classify hyphenated forms such as these as ‘clipped compounds’7. According to Plag (2003: 121), blending is “best described in terms of prosodic categories”, and “[o]nly syllabic constituents as a whole can be deleted” (Plag 2003: 123) – a bold statement that I would not agree with. Plag’s description seems rather mechanistic:

[…] blends behave semantically and syntactically like copulative compounds and their phonological make-up is characterized by three restrictions. The first is that the initial part of the first word is combined with the final part of the second word. Secondly, blends only combine syllable constituents (onsets, nuclei, codas, rimes, or complete syllables), and thirdly, the size of blends (measured in terms of syllables) is determined by the second element. (Plag 2003: 125)

33Blends are less transparent than compounds and many blends are used for attention-catching purposes in advertising and journalism, and these are often short-lived (Adams 2001: 141). Blends are popular because of their creativity. According to Stockwell & Minkova (2001: 7), “[b]lending is an area of word formation where cleverness can be rewarded by instant popularity”. Crystal (1995: 130) agrees that “[b]lending seems to have increased in popularity in the 1980s, being increasingly used in commercial and advertising contexts … but how many of them will still be around in a decade remains an open question”.

34The term ‘splinter’ has been proposed for the constituents of blends – a metaphor which aptly expresses their irregular shape. It was originally introduced by Berman (1961: 279) who used this term to define blends:

Thus Blending or Telescoping can be defined as such a process of coining new words under which a blend is formed by adding the splinter of the last initial word to the stem or to the shortened substitute of the stem of the first initial word (words). As we see, blends cannot be looked upon as units lying within the limits of one of the fixed structural types of word-building. It is their peculiar structure that distinguishes them from any other word structures. (Berman 1961: 279f; emphasis in original)

35With slight modifications, this term is then adopted by Adams (1973: 142, 149ff, 188ff) who states that splinters are neither morphemes nor ‘compound-elements’:

Usually splinters are irregular in form, that is, they are parts of morphs, though in some cases there is no formal irregularity, but a special relationship of meaning between the splinter and some ‘regular’ word in which it occurs. (Adams 1973: 142)

  • 8 Interestingly, Adams seems to have abandoned the concept of ‘splinter’ in her later work; in her 20 (...)

36Adams8 (1973: 142) follows Berman (1961): “Words containing splinters I shall call blends”.

37The term ‘splinter’, is developed further by Soudek (1978) who distinguishes between ‘initial splinters’ and ‘final splinters’; initial splinters may be the first or the second element, while final splinters can only become the second element of blends. Overlaps, for example, motel, often result from the merging of initial and final splinters. Splinters can even give rise to new morphological units through reanalysis, such as -gate (from Watergate in Clinterngate, Yuppiegate) and -(o)holic (from alcoholic in workaholic, shopaholic, foodaholic) (see also Adams 2001: 139f, Haspelmath 2002: 56, and Lehrer 1998).

38López Rúa’s (2002) analysis of blends also involves the term ‘splinter’, which she defines as follows:

I […] regard as splinters those graphic and phonemic sequences (not only in blends but also in peripheral initialisms) which are neither inflectional nor derivational morphemes, nor combining forms (electro-, -scope), and whose length generally allows their identification as belonging to a previous word. Consequently, splinters tend to be syllables or units larger than syllables in their sources, as Ox– and –bridge in Oxbridge (‘OXford and CamBRIDGE), or Digi– and –alt in Digiralt (‘DIGItal radar ALTimeter’). When they are shorter than syllables, their constituents are the syllable onset (i.e. the prevocalic consonant or consonants); the onset and the nucleus (prevocalic consonants + vowel); or the rhyme (vowel + postvocalic consonants or coda). (López Rúa 2002: 37f)

  • 9 According to Aitchison (2003: 138) sounds at the beginnings and the ends of words are retrieved mor (...)

39In most cases, initial splinters form the first part of the blend, and final splinters become the tail. There are exceptions, however: in modem, the initial splinter dem [< demodulator] constitutes the tail; and while modem combines two initial splinters, Kongfrontation, consists of two final splinters. The most common pattern is the combination of initial splinter followed by a final splinter9, often with overlap, as in motel (see Algeo 1977 and Soudek 1978), and “[…] the splinter of the initial source word is as likely to receive prominence as is the splinter of the terminal source word” (Cannon 2000: 953). However, there are also cases of blends which incorporate entire unshortened words, usually with overlap, for example, thinspirations and WAPathy.

40Depending on their structure, blends can be classified into a number of sub-types; these are presented in Figure 2 below.

Fig. 2: Types of Blends

initial and final splinter with overlap

affluenza, burpulence, celebutante, pong

two initial splinters with overlap

modem

two final splinters with overlap

Kongfrontation

overlap of full words (‘telescope’)

thinspirations, WAPathy

initial splinter + full word with overlap

AIM, Coca-Colonization, emoticon, Gautrain

final splinter + full word with overlap

netiquette

full word + final splinter with overlap

adultescent, gundamentalist, himbo

insertion of one word into the other, with overlap

Clinterngate, Y2.1K

more than two constituents

burpulence, Clinterngate, SMART

graphic blends

absa-lutely, Inglish, InteracTV, Lo-CALL, opporTOMist, royoil, suisside, WAPathy

41With the exception of graphic blends, which only exist in their written forms, blends clearly originate in the oral medium: especially in those cases where there is overlap, the telescoping of phonetically similar parts of words, as in affluenza, celebutante, gundamentalist etc., suggests that the large majority of blends were first created orally before they were fixed in writing.

42While larger than initials, splinters also represent the words for which they stand: semantically, splinters contribute the entire meaning of their source words to the new lexeme mixtures, the blends. Their irregular shapes, combined with unorthodox blending methods, result in innovative and unconventional new lexemes which are often funny and attention-catching – qualities that are exploited in advertising and in journalism.

5. Clippings, clipped compounds and free splinters

43Marchand (1969: 441) defines clipping as “the reduction of a word to one of its parts. […] [T]he clipped part is not a morpheme in the linguistic system (nor is the clipped result, for that matter), but an arbitrary part of the word form”. Bauer (1988: 33) is also doubtful about the status of clipping: “Since the parts that are deleted in clipping are not clearly morphs in any sense, it is not necessarily the case that clipping is a part of morphology, although it is a way of forming new lexemes.”

  • 10 See also Fandrych’s (2004: 31) mini-experiment around exam, which showed that exam is used in the s (...)

44In my opinion, clipping is certainly a word-formation process: in many cases, we witness semantic disassociation10, for example, in exam, pants and pub, or clippings move to different registers or styles as compared to their long equivalents, for example, ad, apps (< applications), and prof. Bauer (1988: 33) also observes that “clipping frequently does change the stylistic value of the word.” An outwardly visible sign of this disassociation can be new spellings, such as Aussie and loony (see below). Due to semantic disassociation, clipping is sometimes used for euphemistic or obfuscatory purposes, as in Mia, an in-group term used by young women afflicted with bulimia in their chatrooms. In addition, clippings can become constituents of new, multiple, formations, for example, blogging and lad mag.

45Kreidler (1979: 26) notes that clipping means the “subtraction of material which is not obviously morphemic”, while Plag (2003: 22) hypothesizes that clipping (or ‘truncation’) is “the process of deleting material itself which is the morph”, thus possibly even necessitating a new morpheme definition: “Truncation is a process in which the relationship between a derived word and its base is expressed by the lack of phonetic material in the derived word” (Plag 2003: 116). In view of the obvious irregularity of clipping – morpheme boundaries are often ignored – , Plag’s analysis is hardly convincing: certainly, in the formation of photog < photographer (as distinct from photo < photograph), neither morpheme nor syllable boundaries were observed, nor are the second constituents of the clipped compounds lad mag and midrats determined by any such boundaries.

46Usually, it is relatively long words (that is, words consisting of at least two or three syllables) that are clipped. Fore-clipping (for example, photog and temp) is the most common type, followed by back-clipping (blog, graph, ism, phone) and back- and fore-clipping (flu, fridge). Mid-clipping (Jo’burg or Jo’bg) is rare, and written clippings never leave the written domain, that is, when read aloud, their full forms replace the shortening, such as abbr and esp. Interestingly, written clippings can become parts of new combinations, and then they are pronounceable as clippings, for example, Atty-Gen < Attorney-General. Clipped compounds are shortenings of long combinations, which keep one constituent unshortened, as in lad mag and SimEarth < Simulation Earth). Further characteristics include the maintenance of plurals (apps and specs), informal spellings (loony < lunatic), and cases of new pronunciation and stress movement (‘Aussie [-z-] < Aus’tralian [-st-]).

  • 11 The concept ‘free splinter’ is proposed here in analogy to the term ‘free morpheme’ (as opposed to (...)

47Clipping shares a large degree of arbitrariness with blending: it neither considers stress nor syllable or morpheme structures. Rather extreme examples which demonstrate this disregard for stress and syllable boundaries are blog from weblog and photog from photographer. Therefore, one might argue that the results of clippings are ‘free splinters’11, that is, independent elements which remain after a radical shortening process. Another feature that is unique to clipping is that clipping is pure shortening: unlike acronymy and blending, the shortening process is not accompanied by expansion.

48While initials in acronyms are bound elements, and the same is true of splinters in blends, clipping, as a subtractive process, “sets splinters free”; as irregular parts of words from which they originated, they undergo a process of semantic and stylistic disassociation (often accompanied by phonetic and/or graphemic changes) which can result in their complete emancipation: cases such as pants, pub, bus and the more recent blog are examples of clippings which have all but severed their ties with the lexemes on which they were based. Like free morphemes, these free splinters can contribute to new, multiple formations.

6. Conclusion

49Despite their frequent marginalisation, acronyms, blends and clippings are interesting cases of seemingly irregular structures. Morphemes do not play a role in their formation; instead, these processes make use of a whole gamut of submorphemic elements, ranging from mere initials, groups of letters, syllables and splinters to full (not infrequently even complex) words. For their analysis, there is a need for a more flexible approach than mere morpheme analysis, and for concepts below the level of the traditional “smallest meaningful elements”. This study has proposed the use of three submorphemic concepts for the analysis of non-morphematic word-formation processes: initials in the case of acronymy, (bound) splinters in the case of blending, and free splinters in the case of clipping.

50In view of their unorthodox structures, it is not surprising that the apparent irregularity of form of acronyms, blends and clippings opens the door for creativity and playfulness, irony and unconventionality. Their resulting originality is attention-catching and is often exploited in advertising and headlines. This is one of the reasons why acronyms, blends and clippings have enjoyed an unprecedented popularity and productivity in English in recent decades. Admittedly, they are not always welcome in more formal registers, that is, they are stylistically marked. However, in advertising, in the media and in modern technology, they have firmly established themselves. In order to capture these socio-pragmatic and textual aspects, one will, however, have to go beyond a structural analysis and take usage-related aspects into account.

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Appendix

Appendix: Examples used in the study12

ITEM

WF Type

WF Subtype

ABB < ASEA + BBC

blend

from acronyms

ABC = ‘A Better Chance’ [program]

acronym

homonymy/reverse

ABSA = ‘Amalgamated Banks of South Africa’

acronym

absa-lutely < ABSA + absolutely

blend

from acronym, graphic

adultescent < adult + adolescent

blend

overlap

advertorial < advertisement + editorial

blend

overlap

affluenza < affluence + influenza

blend

overlap

AIM < AOL [‘America Online’] + IM [‘Instant Messenger’]

blend

from acronyms

Ana < anorexia

clipping

fore

Animania < animal + mania

blend

overlap

apps < applications

clipping

fore

blog < weblog

clipping

back

broccoflower < broccoli + cauliflower

blend

burbulence < burp + burble + turbulence

blend

overlap

CD-Rom joint venture

compound

from acronyms

celebutante < celebrity + debutante

blend

overlap

Clinterngate < Clinton + intern + [Water]gate

blend

overlap, 3 constituents, from names

Clintessence < Clint [Eastwood] + quintessence

blend

overlap, from name

clone-dren < clone (s) + children

blend

graphic

Coca-Colonization < Coca Cola + colonization

blend

overlap, graphic

Cowsteau < cow + Cousteau

blend

overlap, from name

Demo-Crazy < democracy + crazy

blend

graphic

emoticon < emotive + icon

blend

overlap

Epcot = ‘Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow’

acronym

EP-X = ‘Efficient Personal Experimental’

acronym

ESPRIT = ‘European Strategic Programme for Research

and Development in Information Technology’

acronym

homonymy/reverse

FBI = ‘Federal Bureau of Investigation’ - Fibbies

acronym

phoneticised

FLIR = ‘forward-looking infrared system’

acronym

homonymy/reverse

fluffragette < fluff + suffragette

blend

overlap

FOI-able = ‘Freedom of Information Act + available’

suffixation

from acronym

Franglais < Francais + Anglais

blend

overlap

Frenglish < French + English

blend

overlap

Gautrain < Gauteng (Sesotho Johannesburg/Pretoria) + train

blend

overlap

graph < paragraph

clipping

back

gundamentalist < gun + fundamentalist

blend

overlap

himbo< him + bimbo

blend

overlap

Imagineer < imagine + engineer

blend

overlap

Inglish < Indian English

blend

graphic

INSPASS = ‘Immigration and Naturalization Service

Passenger Accelerated Service System’

acronym

partial homonymy

InteracTV

blend

graphic, from acronym

intrapreneur < intra + entrepreneur

blend

overlap

INXS = ‘in excess’ (pop group)

acronym

phonetic/graphic

IPO = ‘initial public offerings’

acronym

Jo’burg, Jo’bg < Johannesburg

clipping

mid

killboard < kill + billboard

blend

overlap

Kongfrontation < [King] Kong + confrontation

blend

overlap

lad mag < lad + magazine

clipped compound

Lo-CALL < local + low [cost] + [phone] call

clipped compound

graphic

Los Diego < Los Angeles + San Diego

clipped compound

metrosexual < metropolis + hetero-/homosexual

blend

Mia < bulimia

clipping

back

Miamamerican < Miami + American

blend

overlap

Microsortof < Microsoft + sort of

blend

from name + phrase

midrats < midnight rations

clipped compound

MISHAP = ‘Missiles High-Speed Assembly Program’

Acronym

rearranged sequence

Moab = ‘Massive Ordnance Air Blast’; ‘Mother Of All Bombs’

acronym

reinterpretation

mockumentary < mock + documentary

blend

overlap

modem < modulator + demodulator

blend

2 initial splinters, overlap

MST = ‘Magical Science Theatre’

acronym

MSTies [mIsti:z] < MST + -ies

suffixation

from acronym

MUD = ‘Multi-User Dungeon’

acronym

homonymy/reverse

Muppets < marionette + puppet

blend

overlap

NAFTA = ‘North American Free Trade Agreement’

acronym

netiquette < [Inter]net + etiquette

blend

overlap

NIMBY = ‘not in my backyard’

acronym

No-K. = ‘not OK’

blend

from acronym

Nuyorican < New York[er] + [Puerto] Rican

blend

overlap

NWO = ‘New World Order’

acronym

OK-ness < OK + -ness

suffixation

from acronym

OpporTOMist < opportunist + [Uncle] Tom

blend

graphic

OTT = ‘over-the-top’

acronym

PIN = ‘personal identification number’

acronym

homonymy/reverse

outercourse < out + intercourse

blend

overlap

PESP = ‘Pre-Entry Science Programme”

acronym

photog < photographer

clipping

fore

pix < pics < pictures

clipping

fore, respelling

PLAN = ‘Prevent Los Angelization Now’

acronym

homonymy/reverse

plunget < plunge + plummet

blend

overlap

pong < poetry + song

blend

overlap

QBO = ‘quasi-biennial oscillation’

acronym

Qualiflyer < qualify/ier + fly/ier

blend

overlap

QUANGO, quango = ‘Quasi-Autonomous Non-

Governmental Organisation’

acronym

from acronym

royoil [royalties] < royal + oil [royalties]

blend

overlap, graphic

Ruthanasia > Richardson + euthanasia

blend

SAREIN = ‘Southern African Renewable Energy

Information Network’

acronym

partial homophony

SCR = ‘Soweto Community Radio’

acronym

from acronym

Sdoos < SDUs = ‘self-defence units’

acronym

respelling

SERMS = ‘selective estrogen response modulators’

acronym

quasi-homonymy

sexiled < sex + exiled

blend

overlap

SHARP = ‘SkinHeads Against Racial Prejudice’

acronym

homonymy/reverse

SimEarth < Simulation Earth

clipped compound

SMART = ‘Swatch, Mercedes & art’

blend

3 constituents

Soweto = “South-Western Townships’

acronym

syllabic

specs < spectacles; specifications

clipping

fore

Spoos < SPUs = ‘self-protection units’

acronym

respelling

stalkerazzi < stalk + paparazzi

blend

overlap

suisside < Suisse + suicide

blend

graphic, overlap

SUV = ‘sport-utility vehicle’

acronym

tax avoision < tax avoidance + [tax] evasion

compound

from blend

TCK = ‘Third Culture Kids’

acronym

thinspirations < thin + inspiration/aspirations

blend

overlap

to celeb < celeb

conversion

from clipping

to e < to e-mail < electronic mail

conversion

from multiple clippings

to okay < okay < o.k. < O.K.

conversion

from respelled acronym

to R.S.V.P.; R.S.V.P.ed < répondez, s’il-vous-plaît

conversion

from acronym

to temp < temp

conversion

from clipping

to TKO < technical KO (‘knock-out’)

conversion

from acronym

tofurkey < tofu + turkey

blend

overlap

top = ‘termination of pregnancy’

acronym

homonymy/reverse

touron < tourist + moron

blend

overlap

TTIC = ‘Terrorist Threat Information Center’

acronym

pronunciation [‘ti:tik]

un-PC = ‘politically incorrect’

prefixation

from acronym

VoS = ‘Voice of Soweto’

acronym

homonymy/reverse

WAP = ‘wireless access protocol’

acronym

WAPathy < WAP + apathy

blend

from acronym, overlap,

graphic

weborexia < web + anorexia

blend

whizzo < WSO (‘weapons system officer’)

acronym

respelling

Wimp [way] = ‘windows, icons, menus and point-and-click’

acronym

homonymy/reverse

WLSA = ‘Women and Law in Southern Africa’

acronym

WMC = ‘White Male Candidate’

acronym

XS [‘eks ‘es] < excess [Ik’ses] (name of aftershave)

acronym

phonetic/graphic

Y2.1K [compliant] < Year 2000 + 2.1 [engine] [compliant]

blend

from acronym

Y-CHOPS = ‘Young Community Home-Owning Parents’

acronym

graphic

yummies = ‘young upwardly mobile Marxists’ + ies

acronym

homonymy/reverse

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Notes

1 See also Fandrych 2007 for a discussion of non-morphematic word-formation processes in electronic communication.

2 Strictly speaking, onomatopoeia (imitation, sound symbolism and reduplication) are also non-morphematic, however, they will not be discussed in this paper as some cases are creations ex nihilo, such as miaow, or make use of entire words, such as wishy-washy. Fandrych (2004: 18) considers back-formation, or back-derivation, as morphematic, because “usually, a suffix (that is a morpheme) is deleted […]” (emphasis in original).

3 For a more detailed review of the most relevant literature on non-morphematic word-formation processes, see Fandrych (2004: 59-100). Other, less relevant literature includes Baum 1956 and 1957, Bryant 1974 and 1977, Feinsilver 1979, Fenzl 1966, French 1977, Friederich 1966 and 1968, Hockett 1980 and 1983, Poethe 1997, Shapiro 1986, Starke 1997, Tsur 2001, and Wölcken 1957.

4 Incidentally, Plag’s analysis of smog and modem makes no mention of overlap (see also below).

5 With the exception of very common items, such as NATO, motel and prof, all the examples used in this paper are drawn from the compilation presented in the Appendix.

6 For the purposes of this study, I will use the cover term ‘acronym’ to include both those formations which are pronounceable, such as NATO and yummies, and those which maintain their letter-by-letter pronunciation (also called ‘abbreviations’ or ‘initialisms’), such as SCR and PC.

7 With the exception of graphic blends, such as absa-lute (see below).

8 Interestingly, Adams seems to have abandoned the concept of ‘splinter’ in her later work; in her 2001 publication, she does not mention splinters any more. Instead, she analyses blending as reanalysis. (Adams 2001: 138f).

9 According to Aitchison (2003: 138) sounds at the beginnings and the ends of words are retrieved more easily from the mental lexicon; this might be an explanation for the popularity of blends which consist of initial splinters and final splinters.

10 See also Fandrych’s (2004: 31) mini-experiment around exam, which showed that exam is used in the sense of a ‘test of knowledge’ as opposed to examination in the sense of a ‘doctor’s examination’.

11 The concept ‘free splinter’ is proposed here in analogy to the term ‘free morpheme’ (as opposed to the ‘bound splinter’ in blending and the ‘bound morpheme’ in affixation).
See also Lehrer (1996: 362; 1998: 4 and 16), who notes that splinters can become new word-formation elements, such as combining forms, and eventually even morphemes.

12 This collection is based on the Fandrych (2004) corpus. The original corpus was compiled over a period of several years, using examples from everyday linguistic encounters in the United Kingdom, the United States and Southern Africa. The extract presented here has been amended slightly. For the purposes of this study, it is used as a “quarry” from which to draw examples.

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References

Electronic reference

Ingrid Fandrych, « Submorphemic elements in the formation of acronyms, blends and clippings », Lexis [Online], 2 | 2008, Online since 10 November 2008, connection on 28 April 2017. URL : http://lexis.revues.org/713 ; DOI : 10.4000/lexis.713

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About the author

Ingrid Fandrych

National University of Lesotho.

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