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A short word is an abbreviation of a word or a syntagm that is not only written, but also spoken shortened. Examples are trucks, UNO or cars . The abbreviations do not include sigla like the ampersand or the paragraph sign and orthographic abbreviations such as etc. or approx. Which are expanded when reading aloud.

Types of acronyms

Short words can be differentiated according to various criteria:

  • after which part of the original word is retained:
  1. Head word : locomotive for locomotive ; Car for automobile , but not for autocrat or the like; Kilo for kilogram, but not kilometer or similar. Very often, as in these cases, the short word consists of the first one or two syllables of the original word. There is also:
  2. End word / tail word : bus for omnibus
  3. Bracketed word / bracketed form / folding word : cherry blossom for cherry tree blossom ; Cardboard stem possibly for cardboard flower stem
  4. Body word : Lisa instead of Elisabeth (name)
  • then whether only the first letters or syllables are used for abbreviation:
  1. Acronyms / initial words AT, CDU , truck , car , SPD , UNO or
  2. Abbreviated syllables like Kripo , Schupo
  3. Mixing short words of acronym and syllable word as short Unimog ( uni versal mo tor g et up instrument, the original case), Degussa ( De suction G old- u nd S Ilber s cheide a nstalt), AWO ( A rbeiter where hlfahrt )
  • then whether only part of the original word was shortened:
Partial acronym: Flat rate , S-Bahn , U-Boot , ABC weapons , D-Zug , G-Punkt , TV star , U-Bahn , U-Haft , Ü-Ei , V-Mann . (These examples are to be distinguished from form iconic words .)

They can also be summarized in unisegmental short words (head word, end word) and multi-segmental short words (acronyms, syllable words, mixed words, brackets, body words).

The specialist literature further differentiates between these types (cf. Kobler-Trill 1994). Michel (2006, 2014) suggests a dynamic prototypology based on language usage that postulates a continuum relationship between prototypical and unprototypical evidence for specific extracts of reality.


Short words serve the human striving for economy, that means the reduction of speaking or writing effort. But they also have other functions: They serve as a signal for social affiliation of those who use the abbreviations; some of them allow word formations ( derivations ) that are not possible with the longer overall words , such as CDU students. By alternating between the longer source words (full words, full forms) and the short words, they enable expression variations in the text. Sometimes short words are also used as euphemisms , such as SB for masturbation .


  • Vincent Balnat: Abbreviations in contemporary German (= German linguistics - monographs. Volume 26). Olms, Hildesheim / Zurich / New York 2011, ISBN 978-3-487-14550-1 (X / 345 p. With some illustrations and a CD-ROM).
  • Vincent Balnat & Barbara Kaltz: On some theoretical problems of shortword formation. In: Contributions to the history of linguistics. 16.1 / 2, 2006, pp. 195-218.
  • Karl-Heinz Best : Shortening tendencies in German from the point of view of quantitative linguistics . In: Jochen A. Bär, Thorsten Roelcke, Anja Steinhauer (eds.): Linguistic brevity. Conceptual, structural and pragmatic aspects (= linguistics - impulses & tendencies. Volume 27). de Gruyter, Berlin a. a. 2007, ISBN 978-3-11-017542-4 , pp. 45–62 (The article models, among other things, the development of the use of shorthands in the German press in the 20th century as a process that follows the Piotrowski law ) .
  • Dorothea Kobler-Trill: The short word in German. An investigation into definition, typology and development (= German Linguistics. Volume 149). Niemeyer, Tübingen 1994, ISBN 3-484-31149-5 (also: Passau, Univ., Diss., 1992/93).
  • Sascha Michel: short word usage. A plea for a pragmatic definition and prototypology of acronyms. In: German reports. 64, 2006, ISSN  0771-3703 , pp. 69-83.
  • Sascha Michel: technical terminology usage. On the development of the abbreviation in the 'Bundeswehr' institution. In: BeateHenn-Memmesheimer, Joachim Franz (ed.): The order of the standard and the differentiation of the discourses (= Linguistics International. Volume 24). Lang, Frankfurt / Main a. a 2009, pp. 831-842.
  • Sascha Michel: The acronym between 'Langue' and 'Parole' - analyzes of the postulate of synonymy between acronym and full form. In: Hilke Elsen, Sascha Michel, Heiko Girnth (eds.): Word formation in German between language system and language use. Perspectives - analyzes - applications (= perspectives of German linguistics. Volume 5). Ibidem-Verlag, Stuttgart 2011, ISBN 978-3-8382-0134-4 , pp. 135-163, urn : nbn: de: 101: 1-2017120717340 .
  • Sascha Michel: On the motivation of short words. A communicative-semiotic investigation of the interface between graphics, phonology and morpho-semantics. In: Sascha Michel, Jozséf Tóth (ed.): Word formation semantics between Langue and Parole. Semantic production and processing of complex words (= Perspektiven German linguistics. Volume 10). Ibidem-Verlag, Stuttgart 2014, pp. 59–91.
  • Anja Steinhauer : Language economy through short words. Education and use in specialist communication (= forum for specialist language research. Volume 56). Narr, Tübingen 2000, ISBN 3-8233-5361-6 (also: Frankfurt am Main, Univ., Diss., 1999).

Similar issues

  • Suitcase word - the merging of two terms into a new one with its own meaning, for example smoke and fog to smog .
  • Contraction - The linguistic contraction of two sounds.
  • Reformation - The word formation by shortening the ending.

Web links

Wiktionary: Abbreviation  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Duden on Pappenstiel