graph and tele

For reasons I won’t explain, I was thinking about the word(s) photograph and photo. English speakers (and I suspect speakers of most languages) often shorten words like these. Investigating using Google Ngrams, I found that, not surprisingly, photograph was used more commonly for most of the word’s history, and that photo overtook it in 1984 (specifying usage as a noun). My preliminary theory is that photograph declined with the rise of digital photo instead of digital photograph, but Ngrams shows that those two phrases are too late and comparatively too little used to have much of an effect overall. 

Similar is/are telephone and phone, for which the latter became more common (as a noun) as recently as 1998. This is plausibly connected to the rise of cell phone and mobile phone instead of cell telephone and mobile telephone, which basically no-one ever used or uses, but phone had been rising in usage since the 1960s. 

Compare the verbs photograph and *photo and telephone and phone (which switched in 1995). Not surprisingly, Ngrams does not record photo as a verb, but surprisingly also does not record photograph, either. At first I thought I’d mis-spelled it, but no, that’s the result. Also not surprisingly, take a photo increased steadily from about 1980 and sharply from about 2000.

Some languages shorten words even more. In Korean, 디지털 카메라 (di-ji-teol ka-me-ra) become 디카 (di-ka) and if 셀프 카메라 봉 (sel-peu ka-me-ra bong) ever existed, it quickly because 셀카봉 (sel-ka-bong, selfie stick).

Linguistically, this is called clipping. Different parts of different words are omitted or kept. Photograph could not become graph, because that had an existing meaning. Once telephone at least sometimes became phone, television could become telly (or tv), but not vision.


4 thoughts on “graph and tele

    • I’m not sure whether I’ve heard or read tec for detective, but the Thursday Next books of Jasper Fforde use LiteraTec for ‘literary detective’.
      There’s a lot to be said about dicks (hmmm …). Of the first two dic(k)tionaries I checked, one says that dick for detective is a usage of the name Dick, and the other says that it is a shortening of detective “probably influenced by the name”.
      Also springing to mind are the movie Dick (which I haven’t seen) and the US tv show Third rock from the sun (which I have), in which the three men were Tom, Dick and Harry. (The movie has two teenaged girls inadvertently getting mixed up in the Watergate scandal. The movie finishes with them holding a sign saying ‘You suck, Dick’.)
      There was a tv show in Australia in the 1970s called Blankety-blanks, in which the compere would read a sentence with one word replaced by the word ‘blank’. A panel of celebrities would write their answers and hide them, then the contestant would say her/his answer and hope to match with as many celebrities as possible. One recurring name was ‘Dick’, with the object to get as many double meanings as possible on a primetime tv show.
      My father’s name was Richard, and he was known to his family and friends as Dick. Famously, one cousin we visited greeted him as ‘Little Dickie [Surname]’, which my sisters and I thought was hilarious.
      A lawyer I liaised with as a legal publishing editor who later became a Federal Court judge was named Richard Tracey. He was known in the profession as ‘Dick Tracey’.
      BTW, I would never use dick for detective, it’s not common in the genres I read or watch, or as far as I know, in Australian English.
      PS, based on the America show Match Game, if that sounded familiar.


  1. I had not heard of the movie “Dick.” I thought I had seen it when you mentioned it, but it was “Dave” I was thinking of (about an ordinary fellow who becomes President of the US — odd how they are both about Presidents).

    And of course there was the classic W. C. Fields movie “The Bank Dick.”

    The lead guitarist for the Allman Brothers Band was named Dickie Betts, but he seemed/seems to prefer being called Richard Betts. It appears to be a Southern US thing.

    I remember Match Game (US) quite well. It was a perfectly fine show IMHO until it was transformed to capitalize on double entendres. However, the concept of the (pre-risque) game troubled me, in that rather than encouraging innovative, creative, original answers, it rewarded contestants for coming up with the most common and conforming responses. Not the healthiest thing for society.


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