Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Mini | Linguistics | Help!

"Show me a man who cannot bother to do little things and I'll show you a man who cannot be trusted to do big things."
- Lawrence Bell

As we are dealing with the idea of 'mini' this week, I thought it an appropriate time to share two small pieces of technical nomenclature for language's tiniest losses. By sheer happenstance, both happen to begin with the prefix 'hap'.


One of those idiomatic linguistic rules which only applies to a tiny portion of written sentences. Haplography occurs when we remove the repetition of a morpheme or punctuation which, logically speaking, should appear twice in a word or sentence. The most common example of these is where a declarative sentence ends in a word that is abbreviated with a period (but note that this rule does not carry over to questions or exclamations).

A: Hello, I am here with the I.R.S.
B: Damn, you're seriously here with the I.R.S.?

Honestly, I don't know what would happen if one were dealing with a brand name that incorporated an exclamation point or a question mark into its identity. I suppose apostrophes would have to come into play...

A: What's your favourite Beatles album?
B: Probably 'Help!'.


This is a similar area of linguistics, referring to the omission of a syllable from a word in such a way that phonetically streamlines the pronunciation. It is largely an aural phenomenon but, if institutionalised, it can leak into the written language.

Ordinary become or-din-ry
Probably becomes prob-ly
Particularly becomes par-tic-u-ly

I don't think the common mistake of pronouncing 'specific' as 'pacific' is an example of this or if it is just a throwback to what is referred to as 'consonant cluster omission' when discussing the speech acquisition of babies. If this aspect of linguistics interests you, I suggest you have a look into 'the fis phenomenon' and see where your research takes you.

I hope that the existence of these wonderful words is a discov'ry to some of you, and that you'll all now go off and start using them in your poems.

Phil Brown
Poetry Editor

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