Monday, November 5, 2007

Portmanteau or Truncation: What to Call That Abbreviation

I mentioned last week sometime that I was going to research what to call abbreviations like NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo. In my digging, I came across a few options and a distinction I’d not seen before.

Should you ever need to know, separate terms exist for words like SCUBA and LASER (which have become scuba and laser, words that some people don’t ever realize mean more) and CIA. The former example, pronounced as a word, retains its title of acronym, just as I thought. I discovered, however, that abbreviations like many government agencies and television stations are termed initialisms, because you pronounce the individual initials rather than trying to make them into a word.

That didn’t answer my question, but I thought you be interested. As NaNoWriMo fits neither of these definitions, two alternatives remained to me: either abbreviation or truncation. Truncation sounds so abrupt, however, so I was rooting for abbreviation. Then I was silly enough to look for a list of the types of abbreviations.

Ai! I hadn’t thought of the many different ways in which people abbreviate words. I did find a term I had forgotten, however, and one that seems to fit. Abbreviations composed of more than one word enjoy the lovely name of portmanteau. Sure, you could call them a blend of clipped forms, but why waste so many words when a single, French one will do?


Lord Matt, story teller


portmanteau is a firm favorite of the wikipedians.