Abbreviations in the English Language


The English language is variable and is constantly changing. Sometimes I question if other languages are the same, but in English, one of the most interesting characteristics is the language’s penchant for expressing words and ideas more quickly and in a shorter way through the use of contractions, acronyms, and abbreviations. Contractions are the combination of two words in which one or more letters are taken out and replaced with an apostrophe.

Examples of this type of linguistic twist are words like “can’t” for “cannot”, “don’t” for “do not”, and “shouldn’t” for “should not”. Not all contractions deal with negation, as words such as “I’ve” to replace “I have” and “you’ve” to replace “you have” also shorten these phrases into a single, monosyllabic word. Abbreviations are words like “Mr.” and “Mrs.” which are used in written text.

Acronyms take the first letters of several words making up a name or phrase and turn them into a new word in their own right that refers to the original idea or thing. All of these techniques possess an element of creativity and are necessary to understand if a person wishes to use the language well and to be accepted as a full member of a culture or subculture.

Genre-Specific Abbreviations

Many fields and subcultures also have their own unique insider lingo to express words and ideas that are used frequently. Take, for example, abbreviations and expressions in math such as “stats hw” to replace “statistics homework”, or the us of the acronym “HR” to refer to the field of human resources. Stats hw is an abbreviation that only makes sense in terms of efficiency in written language, since it would take longer to pronounce the letters using their names, for example, to pronounce the whole drawn out “double you” than to simply say stats homework help.

In written text, however, the use of a term like this is efficient and useful and makes writing faster and less cumbersome while conveying exactly the same information as would the fully expanded expression, at least to insiders of subcultures in which statistics and math are topics of common interest. The same goes for use of the acronym “HR”. Outsiders might not know what these words mean, however, so the mere use of the words says something about what the author considered or considers to be his or her expected audience. This is a fascinating social insight that actually has relevance for social science research and other domains where the words used and the way they are used matter.

The Use of Figurative Language and the Changes in Language over Time

Figurative language is a key element of the way a culture expresses itself verbally and through text. Over time, figurative language, like non-figurative language, changes, and can provide information about other elements that are also changing in the culture, such as the appearance of new inventions and technologies, the emergence of new demographic subgroups and new languages, the arrival of different artistic forms or the evolution of preexisting ones, and any number of other things.

The study of this sort of linguistic device provides a window into the minds and culture of groups within societies and, while from one perspective it seems obvious, from another, abbreviations, contractions, and acronyms are highly deserving of attention.

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