Now-a-days, we tend to ask:"Have you seen my glasses anywhere?" "Do you have any spare tissues to lend me?" and "How many consoles do you own?"

It's just quicker to say and any native speaker will understand, despite the (possible) ambiguity of these terms; e.g., Where are my glasses? could be interpreted as Where are my drinking vessels? But in real life, this never happens.

Essentially, I have three questions:

  • When did the shortened names; glasses, tissues and consoles first appear and took over from their longer named "parents"?

  • Is there a name for this type of noun which originally began as a compound word (sometimes joined by a hyphen) and was eventually reduced to a single-word?

  • Are there any other compound nouns which have dropped one or more lexemes but still retain their original meanings?

NB: I am not referring to portmanteau words which are neologisms made by blending two words together such as smoke and fog to obtain smog. Neither would I consider them to be contractions because there is no omission of internal letters for example; gov't, govt, gov and dep't or dept. I can only think of "shortened" which fits the bill but can also stand for contractions; unless I am mistaken.

Despite skimming through the relevant Wikipedia pages, I found no explanation or references as to why, (although I think that is easily explained) or when, these names were shortened and became more popular.

Source Wikipedia: eyeglasses; facial tissues; video game consoles.

EDIT: In my original title I had included "tissue paper" but as several users have commented, tissue paper is used for wrapping delicate objects whereas tissues normally sold in boxes are commonly referred to as facial tissues, especially in the US.

  • 9
    Tissue paper is for wrapping delicate items in, not for blowing your nose.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Aug 5, 2013 at 12:06
  • 1
    @KitFox Have a look at the wiki link. Tissue paper is also used for handkerchiefs.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 5, 2013 at 12:07
  • 4
    @Mari Was used for handkerchiefs. I only point it out because it has a specific meaning now which is different than tissues.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Aug 5, 2013 at 12:09
  • 1
    Also, knickers, shortening of knickerbockers, and hose (which is a word in its own right but usually meaning pantyhose now – other hosiery is usually called stockings.) Aug 5, 2013 at 12:11
  • 2
    I was serious, What happened to "Using a search engine" now it is googling :) @Bradd: I hear panty's here in the Netherlands for pantyhose
    – mplungjan
    Aug 5, 2013 at 12:16

2 Answers 2


There are a number of examples in the field of technology. Consider

stereo (from stereo or stereophonic system): a set of electronic equipment with two speakers, used for listening to the radio, CDs, and cassettes

laptop (from laptop computer): a computer that is portable and suitable for use while travelling

tablet (from tablet computer or tablet PC): a small portable computer that accepts input directly on to its screen rather than via a keyboard or mouse

There are a number of terms that were not quite compound nouns, but complex nouns utilizing prefixes and roots that have been reduced to their prefix, for example

auto (for automobile): car

semi (for semitrailer): a type of trailer or articulated lorry that has wheels only at the rear, the front end being supported by the towing vehicle


The term cable also fits into the first category

short for cable television: I watch polo on cable

There are also terms that take a part of the compound term (usually the adjectival noun) and make a shorter term by adding s and dropping the common noun

sweats (from sweatshirt, sweatpants or sweat-suit): sweatshirts and sweat-suit trousers - jeans and sweats

rubbers (from rubber boots): North American - rubber boots; galoshes


Brief comments on selected items (including some from the comments):

Eye glasses

I call mine glasses or specs.

I would think of an eyeglass (singular) as usually referring to a single lens, more like an old-fashioned monocle.

Chambers defines eyeglass noun as:
1. a single lens in a frame, to assist weak sight.
2. (eyeglasses) chiefly US spectacles.

I wouldn't have said that "eyeglasses" has been a common British term for "spectacles" during my lifetime (>60y).

Tissue paper

I agree with @KitFox's comment that "Tissue paper is for wrapping delicate items in, not for blowing your nose". I would suggest that that is the current common British usage for "tissue paper", as confirmed by the following definition:

Chambers defines tissue noun as:
1. ... muscle tissue.
2. a piece of thin soft disposable paper used as a handkerchief or as toilet paper.
3. (also tissue paper) fine thin soft paper, used eg for wrapping fragile objects.
4. fine thin delicate woven fabric.
5. an interwoven mass or collection • a tissue of lies.

(I have never previously associated tissues with telling lies!)
I don't recall tissues being referred to as tissue paper. Nor do I recall them being referred to as Kleenex ™ in the UK. Chambers gives the etymology for Kleenex as 1920s, whereas tissue dates "from 14c: from French tissu woven cloth". (I briefly wondered whether tissue was derived from atishoo, before I thought about the other meanings of tissue!)

The Wikipedia article you refer to states that

... tissue paper as we know it today was not produced in USA before the mid-1940s. In Western Europe large scale industrial production started in the beginning of 1960s.

so I would suggest that the term tissues (in the UK) dates from the 1960s.


Chambers suggests that knickers may have different meanings on either side of 'the pond':

knickerbockers and (US) knickers plural noun
baggy trousers tied just below the knee or at the ankle.

knickers plural noun
an undergarment with two separate legs or legholes. They are worn by women and girls, and cover part or all of the lower abdomen and buttocks and sometimes the thighs.

The term knickers is still in common use in the UK, for the second meaning given above, along with:

panties plural noun

thin light knickers, mainly for women and children.

but pantyhose is very definitely a N.American term:

panty hose or pantihose plural noun
N Amer women's tights.

for what, in the UK, are known as tights:

tights plural noun
a close-fitting, usually nylon or woollen, garment which covers the feet, legs and body up to the waist, and is worn usually by women, as well as dancers and acrobats, etc.

  • But surely the origins of glasses comes from eyeglasses or eye glasses regardless of whether the expression was invented (so to speak) in the US? Eyeglasses must have preceded glasses.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 5, 2013 at 13:55
  • 3
    Note that in the US, tights are a different animal than [panty]hose. The former are much thicker and probably opaque, whereas the latter are see-through and acquire runs if you look at them cross-eyed.
    – Marthaª
    Aug 5, 2013 at 14:18
  • @Mari-LouA Must have? I can't find any evidence to support your assumption that eyeglasses preceded glasses (in the relevant sense). Can you explain why you think this is true?
    – user28567
    Aug 5, 2013 at 15:44
  • @snailboat I had always assumed so, I knew the word eyeglasses existed alongside spectacles and had naturally presumed (for years and years) it preceded glasses. I had never done any research on the matter, nor did I think of checking its history before writing this question. (Nevertheless it very interesting if it proves to be the case.)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 5, 2013 at 15:55
  • @Mari-LouA I didn't mean to imply that eyeglasses didn't precede glasses. I was merely quoting what I found regarding current usage. Have done a bit more research and will post more later.
    – TrevorD
    Aug 5, 2013 at 18:23

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