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A couple of friends and I were playing Boggle last night, and we came across a point of contention over the word 'mini'.

One party argued that 'mini' is an abbreviation of 'miniature', and therefore not a valid word. They also argued that the same would have to hold true for a word like 'temp' or 'stat', if that were the case for 'mini'.

The other argued that it has become a word in its own right, as it has been used for so long apart from its parent word. It was even argued that 'mini' and 'miniature' are separate words because they mean different things.

It got me thinking about how language evolves and I wondered:

Which side, if any, of this discussion is correct? Can abbreviations become actual words, and is there a process for this? Are there any better examples that showcase this?

Any help would be much appreciated!


EDIT: To clarify, the information that I am most interested in is why 'mini' is considered standalone whilst 'temp' and 'stat' are not. I'm sure there are other examples of abbreviations that are in common usage, yet are not considered proper words. Is there some sort of threshold that must be crossed, or is it a case-by-case process?

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    It's not an equivalent to the possessive its! – mahmud koya May 30 '17 at 13:14
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    I can't believe I did that on English SE! I have edited thanks – Korthalion May 30 '17 at 13:38
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    Keep in mind that "temp" can be "temporary" or "temperature" and "stat" can be "statistic" or "statim" (in medicine). I do not believe "mini" suffers from such ambiguity. – cobaltduck May 30 '17 at 13:49
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    Actually, a mini is a full-size skirt, it's just very short. – Roger Sinasohn May 30 '17 at 17:13
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    @RogerSinasohn Scrabble thinks everything is a word. – Strawberry May 31 '17 at 9:11
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It really comes down to deciding on which expressions you want to consider to be words. That's why Scrabble dictionaries exist. There's no authority that can say mini or temp are not words. In fact temp can be short for at least two things: temperature and temporary employee. You guys need to decide on a dictionary to use, just like Scrabble players. I would consider temp to be a word–even if it doesn't appear in any dictionary. Dictionaries cannot contain all words.

Temp is also used as a verb meaning to work as a temporary employee. I checked the OED and all meanings of temp that I've mentioned have their own entries...

And I think "abbreviation" is not the word you're looking for. Mini and temp are short(ened) forms, like fridge for refrigerator.

The only threshold to be crossed is if the shortened form of a word catches on, is used by enough speakers. Such as net for internet. The "formalization" of this crossing the threshold might be inclusion in a dictionary, but dictionaries can't keep up with popular usage.

  • Thanks for this answer. Yes, it will be up to us to decide what to allow and what not to allow. We don't allow abbreviations and that's where the point of contention began. We wouldn't allow temp, for example. Fridge is a good example to consider. Thank you. – Korthalion May 30 '17 at 17:00
  • It's amazing you wouldn't allow temp, as it's seemingly crossed any possible threshold... But yeah it's up to yall. – AmE speaker May 30 '17 at 17:02
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    @Korthalion temp is not one "word" but many. So as a short form temporary it would make sense to disallow it, but in its sense of temporary worker, it is a perfectly valid word and is in fact attested in any more or less recent dictionary you can find. By the way, so's mini, it means a type of skirt. – terdon May 30 '17 at 18:22
  • This is the correct answer to the question in the context of the game: pick a specific dictionary, and use it as the final judge. If you wish to be the most generous, use a Scrabble Dictionary, but be warned it only gives one brief possible definition, even if there are other valid definitions. – BradC May 30 '17 at 19:45
  • I've never heard "mini" as a type of skirt - I've exclusively heard the type of skirt referred to as a "mini-skirt". However, I certainly have heard these referred to just as "minis": liquormart.com/liquor/minis - as in, at a distillery tasting room, "Do you have this in a mini?" "No, sorry, only the full size bottles." That said, I would definitely also allow both "temp" and "stat" to be full words as well. – neminem May 30 '17 at 20:57
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Macmillan has it as a noun, synonymous with miniskirt. This also provides an example of how the adjective isn't quite a synonym for miniature - a miniature skirt would fit a small doll.

Cambridge does too, along with the adjective and Mini the car (though most games ban brands).

  • Thanks for this answer - it puts into perspective different uses of the word that I hadn't considered. – Korthalion May 30 '17 at 16:59
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Oxford considers mini a stand-alone word.

ADJECTIVE

Denoting a miniature version of something.

‘a mini camera’

So do Merriam-Webster and a variety of other sources.

  • Thanks for your answer. I should have clarified better - the information I'm looking for is why it is considered a standalone word, and not still an abbreviation of minature like 'temp' or 'stat'. I can't think of any context where 'minature' cannot replace 'mini', and vice versa. – Korthalion May 30 '17 at 13:33
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    It's what linguists call a "libfix" -- a bound affix that has escaped from bondage and now can combine in many different constructions, as in a noun phrase. Like mini super, which uses another libfix, super. – John Lawler May 30 '17 at 13:50
  • That makes a bit more sense. Does that mean it's no longer considered an abbreviation, even though it's still a shortened version of a parent word that has exactly the same meaning? – Korthalion May 30 '17 at 15:27
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    @Korthalion: Why not? We have many words that are shortened versions of their parent: automoble -> auto, telephone -> phone... – jamesqf May 30 '17 at 17:26
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    @Korthalion: Do you consider "bus" a word? "Math"? "Piano"? (Similar to "piano", "radio" and "cinema" are both abbreviations in Italian (of "radiofonia", "cinematografo", which remains obvious from the gender of the shortened nouns), but seem to have arrived in English pre-shortened.) – Kundor May 30 '17 at 23:11
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Can abbreviations become actual words?

Clearly, yes. The word "cab", for example, was originally short for cabriolet.

and is there a process for this?

Not a formal one. Something in English becomes a "word" when enough people use it as such.

There is no "board of officially approved English words" to which you have to submit a request.

Words in wide usage eventually find their way into dictionaries, but remember that modern English dictionaries are (primarily) descriptive, not prescriptive:

The truth of the matter is that today virtually all English language dictionaries are descriptive. The editors will usually say that they are simply recording the language and how its words are used and spelled. True, there may be some guidance. For example, most Merriam-Webster dictionaries will note if certain words are deemed nonstandard or offensive by most users; however, the words are still included. Of modern dictionaries, only the Funk and Wagnall's contains a certain amount of prescriptive advice. All the major dictionary publishers - Merriam-Webster, Times-Mirror, World Book, and Funk and Wagnall's - will tell you that they are primarily descriptive.

So if some dictionaries differ on whether to include certain words (mini, temp, stat), that is likely as much a reflection of the dictionary's editorial policy than it is a ruling on whether something is "really a word".

For example, here is Merriam-Webster's FAQ on how a word gets into their dictionary:

To decide which words to include in the dictionary and to determine what they mean, Merriam-Webster editors study the language as it's used. They carefully monitor which words people use most often and how they use them.

They describe a process by which editors scour print and electronic publications for new words or new word usages, and track them via computer. Eventually, these "citations" might add up:

Before a new word can be added to the dictionary, it must have enough citations to show that it is widely used. But having a lot of citations is not enough; in fact, a large number of citations might even make a word more difficult to define, because many citations show too little about the meaning of a word to be helpful. A word may be rejected for entry into a general dictionary if all of its citations come from a single source or if they are all from highly specialized publications that reflect the jargon of experts within a single field.

To be included in a Merriam-Webster dictionary, a word must be used in a substantial number of citations that come from a wide range of publications over a considerable period of time. Specifically, the word must have enough citations to allow accurate judgments about its establishment, currency, and meaning.

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