What Word Was This Commonly Used Word Shortened From?


By: Abi Luftig

6 Min Quiz

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

What's in a word? Quite a lot, actually. Yet, we are constantly changing the words we use to communicate with one another. In fact, although it happens slowly, many of the words we use every day are different from the original words used to communicate a thought or idea. And, we're not really talking about slang, here. We're talking about words that have been shortened from their originals, but which retain enough of their originals to still be recognizable - in other words, they have not been completely redesigned. They have merely been trimmed. Sometimes the shorter and longer versions co-exist for a while, but eventually the older one becomes a little stilted, and they usually drop out of use a few years after that.

This happens all over the language. The word "car" is a contraction of the word "motorcar". Motorcar was once a very commonly used word, but many of us today would not even think of the word when talking about cars. Similarly, "piano" hails from its predecessor, "pianoforte", while "sweet" as in candy was formerly "sweetmeat". 

Do you know enough about the English language to be able to identify commonly used shortened versions of words? Take this quiz to find out.

What is "ammo" short for?

Ammo is short for ammunition, a term that can be traced back to 17th century France. It derives from the term "la munition", meaning weapons. It was incorrectly recorded as l'amunition, which eventually became ammunition, which eventually became ammo, approximately around WWI.


What is the long form of bra?

The word brassière, as it is properly written in Modern French, comes from the Middle French bracieres (meaning either "camisole" or "a protector for the arm"). It began being referred to as a bra around 1923.


What is the word "pants" short for?

This was a bit of a trick question, depending on where you are in the world. If you're in the UK, you know pants to be short for underpants. If you're in the US, you know pants to be short for pantaloons, a type of trouser worn by men in the 19th century. If you are a dog, you know pants as a type of breathing pattern when you get really excited.


What is "car" short for?

Many people believe that car is short for carriage, but this appears to be an urban myth. Linguistically, it comes from the Anglo-Celtic word "carre", meaning a wheeled vehicle. The motor part of "motorcar" is self-explanatory.


What is "fan" short for?

"Fan" as a shortened form of "fanatic" first entered American English in the late 1880s. Fanatic, in turn, comes from the Latin "fanaticus", meaning "pertaining to a temple".


What is "smog" short for?

Smog is an example of a portmanteau when two words are combined to make a new word. Smoke and fog were combined to make smog around 1900, most likely as a result of the Industrial Revolution.


What is "emoticon" short for?

Another example of a portmanteau, "emoticon" entered the cultural vocabulary in the early 1980s. Emoticons have been mostly phased out by emojis, which comes from the Japanese for "picture character".


What is "hello" short for?

The earliest written example of "hello" was in 1826. There are a number of theories as to the origins of the word, but the consensus seems to be that it is an abbreviation of "whole be thou", a greeting wishing the recipient to be in good health.


What is “velcro” short for?

Velcro comes from the French words Velours (velvet) and Crochet (hooks). Velcro is actually a proprietary brand name that was created in 1960, but much like Q-Tips or Kleenex has come to be the general name for the product.


What is “motel” short for?

Motels, in addition to being cheaper, are known for being closer to highways than hotels. The March 1925 issue of Hotel Monthly explains and introduces the word, saying “The Milestone Interstate Corporation ... proposes to build and operate a chain of motor hotels between San Diego and Seattle, the hotels to have the name 'Motel.'”


What is “Microsoft” short for?

Another example of a portmanteau, the tech giant Microsoft got its name by combining the words microcomputer (since their computers would no longer take up the better part of an entire room) and the software they would install on their machines. Microsoft was founded in 1975.


What is “movie” short for?

When motion pictures first became part of the cultural norm, they were often referred to as “moving pictures” in common lingo. In approximately 1910, the term was shortened to “movies”.


What is “chortle” short for?

Possibly the first recorded example of a portmanteau, Lewis Carroll combined the words “chuckle” and “snort” in his 1871 publication Through The Looking Glass. It appears in The Jabberwocky, in the line "And, has thou slain the Jabberwock? Come to my arms, my beamish boy! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!' He chortled in his joy.”


What is “pixel” short for?

As early as the 1880s, “pix” became slang for “pictures”. In the late 1960s, when technology was developed to break the pix down to their incremental elements, the phrase “pix elements” became “pixels”.


What is “taxicab” short for?

The earliest recorded use of “taxicab” was in 1905. The French term comes from taximeter (tax measure, or the machine that calculates the fare) and cabriolet, a term for a fast vehicle.


What is “vitamin” short for?

While it may seem like another portmanteau, “vitamin” is actually the shortened version of a Latin phrase, “vital amine”, which translates to “amine (chemical compound dealing with hydrogen and ammonia) of life. Vitamins were named by Polish biochemist Kazimierz Funk in 1912.


In terms of computers, what is “bit” short for?

Computers are programmed mostly using binary code or a sequence of 0s and 1s. Each of those 0s and 1s is a digit in binary notation. They were called binary digits, which became known as bits in the late 1940s.


What is “Knicks” short for?

The New York Knickerbockers take their name from a style of pants worn by Dutch settlers in the 1600s. Knickerbockers got their name in part due to a story by Washington Irving in 1810 which traced all Dutch settlers of New York to a fictional man named Diedrich Knickerbocker.


What is "snark" short for?

There is a bit of a debate about this one. Many believe that "snark" evolved as a portmanteau of "snide remark", but many others believe it evolved from a Low German word for "to find fault with". One thing is certain though: Lewis Carroll used the word as the name of an imaginary creature in his 1876 poem "The Hunting of the Snark".


What is "Cyborg" short for?

Fans of the Justice League are familiar with Cyborg, a hero who is half human and half machine. In the early 1960s, the term cybernetic organism was coined to describe fictional beings such as this. By the time the Terminator showed up in the 1980s, "cyborg" was already well embedded in the cultural vocabulary.


What is "electrocution" short for?

Electrocution was devised in New York state in 1889 as a "humane alternative to hanging". The first person to die of electro-execution (or electrocution, as it eventually became known) was William Kemmler on Aug. 6, 1890, for murdering his common-law wife.


What is "rifle" short for?

Traditionally, to rifle something meant to cut spiral grooves within something, such as a pipe. When it was discovered that rifling a gun barrel led to improved aim, it became common to shoot with a rifled gun. Over time, the term rifle came to mean the gun and not the grooves inside.


What is "never" short for?

This might have been a bit tricky for even the most studied of linguists, as it dates back to 9th Century English. The original phrase was nǣfre (ne meaning not and ǣfre meaning ever).


What is "blush" short for?

There is a bit of debate about this one as well. Many people believe it is a contraction of "blood rush" because when you blush, the blood rushes to your face. Others maintain that it comes from the Old English blyscan (meaning to redden). While the latter seems more plausible, the former has been accepted into the mainstream and appears to be the winner.


What is "fortnight" short for?

"Fortnight" evolved from the Middle English word fourtenight (meaning fourteen nights). "Fourtenight" was shortened to "fortnight" sometime in the 11th century.


What is "doff" short for?

While phrases such as "don your coat" and "doff your hat" seem to be all but extinct, they were once common contractions of the words describing the actions being taken. "Don" was short for "do on" and "doff" was short for "do off". These contractions first came about in the early 1300s in Middle English.


What is "willy-nilly" short for?

This is one of the many phrases coined by Shakespeare. In Hamlet, the Gravedigger says "‘Here lies the water; good: here stands the man; good; if the man go to this water, and drown himself, it is, will he, nill he, he goes.’" It basically means "will he or will he not". Over time, it became stylized as willy-nilly and has come to mean things being done with no sense of direction or purpose.


What is "daisy" short for?

Daisies close up their petals at night and open again when the sun shines on them in the morning. This, coupled with their yellow centers resembling the sun, led to them being named dæges ēage, an Olde English term meaning ‘day’s eye’. Over time, this became daisy.


In the context of dog breeds, what is "Husky" short for?

In the mid-19th century Canada, settlers came upon members of the Ehuskemay tribe of Inuits. The tribes had a very peculiar dog the European settlers had never seen and they named them Huskies after the tribe. The Ehuskemay language is now obsolete, but it is said to strongly resemble the Newfoundland dialect of Huskemaw.


In terms of fashion, what is "retro" short for?

The term "retro" was first used to describe the 1970s trend of Eva Peron-inspired fashion. It is short for "retrograde", which is short for "going backward".


What is "wig" short for?

Strange as it sounds, "wig" is short for "periwig", an English corruption of the French word "perruque". Periwigs specifically refer to the powdered wigs worn by men in the 17th and 18th centuries.


In terms of transportation, what is "van" short for?

Technically, van can also be short for vanguard, a military term for the front of a movement. However, in terms of transportation, van is short for caravan, meaning one wagon in a wagon train, a term that has been around since the 1670s.


What is "lord" short for?

Lord, in a feudal sense, harkens back to an Old English word hlāford, meaning "loaf-ward". It ties into the feudal tradition that lords were meant to provide food for their serfs.


What is "mob" short for?

Mob comes the Latin phrase mobile vulgus, meaning "a fickle crowd". It is meant as a commentary on mob mentality and how crowd emotions change swiftly. There is no clear reason why the Mafia came to be known as the Mob.


What is "goodbye" short for?

Goodbye is said to be an Early English contraction of "God be with ye". This theory was published by linguist Joseph T. Shipley in his 1955 book Dictionary of Early English.


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