04 January 2010

New Word for the New Year

The central character in the book I'm reading at the moment is a French-American translating an erotic novel into English to keep herself in café crème and pastries during a sojourn in Paris. Foreign Tongue is lively and amusing—accurately described by the LA Times as "a brainy, sexy, romantic comedy of letters." Unsurprisingly, my favorite bits aren't from the racy novel-within-a-novel, but instead the American/French narrator's linguistic observations.

She deals with "tricky faux amis" like actuellement (at the present time), déception (letdown), moral/morale (English meanings reversed), eventuellement (possibly), confus (embarrassed), troublant (murky) [pp.27,216] and verlan, a slang based on transposed syllables (chanmé=méchant=nasty; meuf=femme=woman; ouf=fou=crazy; zarbi=bizarre; most unrecognizably portenawaque=n'importe quoi=(in this context) bullshit) [p.17]. I love this sort of thing, not that I'll remember all or even most of the puns, idioms, etc. that Vanina Marsot dissects; the novel will remain in our bedroom bookcase for reference and rereading.

On to the new word, apocope, a linguistic term that appears on p.175. Marsot defines it as the "alteration of a word by the omission of one or more sounds or letters or syllables at the end of the word." Among her examples in French are fac for faculté, resto for restaurant, impec for impeccable, dico for dictionnaire and two Michael and I hear a lot, ado for adolescent and metéo for a weather forecast.

Pasted below is a definition from a great website, http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-apo1.htm, which (temporarily, I fear) expanded my vocabulary by three words instead of one.


Leaving out the last sound, syllable, or part of a word.

When you talk about mag instead of magazine, fab when you mean fabulous, or cred for credibility, you are committing apocope. Perhaps it’s our rush-hurry-urgent age, but it seems that such energetic abbreviations are becoming more common, not merely with students who produce slangy in-terms such as psych, chem and maths (math in the US).

Apocope comes from the Greek word apokoptein, to cut off, made up of apo-, from or away, plus koptein, to cut. Spelling abbreviations like huntin’ or singin’ aren’t apocopic, because the missing last letter indicates that the final sound of the word has changed, not that it has been lost.

Incidentally, if you instead cut the sound off the start of a word, the right name is aphesis (an example being squire, an aphetic form of esquire); if you drop sounds in the middle (for which the classic — and extreme — example is fo’c’s’le for the crews’ quarters on board ship, in full forecastle), the process is called syncope.

1 comment:

  1. Extremely interesting (wish I could come up with an appropriate apocope, but the dull brain refuses to cooperate...)
    Brilliant post!