June 2008 Archives



Is there a name for the particular kind of term-shortening where a term or phrase is abbreviated to its first component, even if that's not the important/meaningful part?

The most common example of this that I see is "Social," short for "Social Security number." As in, "What's your Social?" An abbreviation that includes the words "Security" or "Number" seems like it would make a lot more sense.

I've also heard "Microsoft" for "Microsoft Word." As in, "I wrote it in Microsoft" or "I fired up Microsoft and wrote a letter."

And "Internet" for "Internet Explorer," though that's arguably a different kind of thing; lots of people don't really understand the concept of a web browser.

Another common one: "wiki" for "Wikipedia." Again arguably a different kind of thing; many people don't know what a wiki is, and aren't aware that there are others.

It also seems to me that the "-gate" suffix, meaning "scandal," is somehow related, though that connection may just be in my head. But it does share the idea of extracting part of a term ("Watergate") and using it as shorthand for a much larger meaning.

I suppose these are all more or less synecdoche. One could argue that "society" for "high society" and "the throne" for "the king/queen" are just as strange; they've just been around long enough to be commonly accepted.

Still, my gut feeling is that there's something more/different going on here than just garden-variety synecdoche.

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