No, seriously. I can't think of a single abbreviation that's longer than the actual word. Why isn't "abbreviation" nice and short like the word "terse"?

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    I'm confused. "Abbreviation" is not an abbreviation, so why would you expect it to be short? Words don't normally resemble the things they describe. Lingustic signs are mostly arbitrary. – herisson Apr 25 '16 at 15:22
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    Start from "brevis" (latin for "short", also the root of "brief"); add "ad-" and convert to "breviare" to make it "abbreviare", a verb meaning "to shorten"; then convert to a noun by adding "-ionem" on the end (getting "abbreviationem") to mean "something that has been shortened". Then cut off the -em for French or English, and there you go. – Hellion Apr 25 '16 at 15:26
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    And if you try to make a noun out of "terse", you'll get something like "tersification", which is actually 1 letter longer than "abbreviation". – Hellion Apr 25 '16 at 15:30
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    As @sumelic points out, abbreviation is not an abbreviation. The abbreviation for abbreviation can be as short as [abbr][1]. Conversely, the word long isn't particularly long; it is even shorter than short. +1 to Hellion's comment about the derivation of the word. – Lawrence Apr 25 '16 at 15:30
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    On the other hand, prolix seems a remarkably concise way to say "marked by or using an excess number of words." – Sven Yargs Apr 25 '16 at 18:13

Because our short words come from German and French and describe things that farmers and sailors and priests and their Norman overlords were doing and working with in the Middle Ages.

The only one of those groups who needed a word for "a shorter way to write something" were the priests, who were the only ones who wrote much of anything at all. Since Chinese characters developed in China, not Italy, they chose to use Latin in order to make themselves understood across Europe's variety of local spellings and languages.

Latin doesn't cotton with short terms: it uses a welter of prefixes and suffixes to get its point across. We still use the Latin term abbreviation because shortening isn't much shorter and has other uses and wordshortening is even longer.

  • "Abbreviation" comes from French (although it's also been influenced some by Latin in spelling and pronunciation). Not too many words in English come directly from German; the ones that do don't seem to be short in general (they include schadenfreude, doppelgänger, hamburger, poltergeist). – herisson Apr 25 '16 at 18:19

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