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There’s a plague decimating the English language…or syllables of it, anyway. Perfectly good words are getting lopped off at the knees to make those cute-n-compact truncations known as abbreves (i.e., abbreviations, though I’m sure you could have figured that out). Yet for every person who finds them totes adorbs, there is obvi another person who thinks they sound less than profesh.

And while you might think that you’re one of those people fighting the good fight, sounding out every last syllable of gorgeous and family, word shortening takes no vacays. In fact, you probs have used one today without even realizing it. Here are six words that were abbreves before abbreving was cool. Go fig.

Pub, n. Short for public house
Okay, so maybs (sorry!) you already knew this one, but yes: this British-ish name for your local watering hole comes from a longer phrase that used to denote a gathering place where all are welcome (as opposed to a private house, which fortunately never evolved into a prive).

Mutt, n. Short for muttonhead.
This charmingly guttural term for a mixed-blood mongrel is thought to be a shortened form of an insult invoking another animal altogether. Why decades of English-speakers shrunk this one instead of expanded it is beyond me: Sheep-for-Brains is a pretty good putdown.

Varsity, adj. Short for university
Imagine all the cool kids sitting on the quad (okay, fine, quadrangle) in the 1670s, playing hackey sack and shooting the breeze about life at versity. That’s more or less the origin story of this abbreve, which got a vowel swap a few hundred years later to confuse its identity even further.

Cleric, n. Short for clericus
Whether you mean your D&D character class or your parish priest, use this word and you’re abbreviating with the best of them. Granted, no one has used the full Latin form since the Middle Ages, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t due for a renaissance!

Cab, n. Short for cabriolet
One can only assume that it was some sort of cultural snit between the U.S. and France that led to this elegant term for a horse-drawn carriage getting the Freedom Fries treatment. Or maybe ‘Muricans jes got lazy.

Pants, n. Short for pantaloons
Again, okay; maybe you already knew this. But! Did you know that those pants take their name from a stock character in Italian comedy of the 1500s who wore tight trousers? Or that the word comes from the Greek for “all-compassionate”? Well…now you do. Reasons enough to go loony for the full term, I think.


Blair Thornburgh's picture

Blair Thornburgh

Blair Thornburgh is an editor at Quirk Books. A native Philadelphienne and apparent devotée of gendered demonyms, she makes a mean plate of scrambled eggs, a much friendlier cup of coffee, and would love to talk to you about (or in) multiple dead languages. Hwæt!