The prefix "crypto-" originally meant "hidden". Now, due to its association with "cryptography", the prefix has shifted to mean something more like "secure" when used in new words, e.g. "cryptocurrency". This may be mainly due to the relatively few number of words in common usage that use the "crypto-" prefix with its original meaning.

Another example of this is "hyper-". Originally it just meant "over", but now it's often just a short form of "hyperactive", the word it's probably most often associated with. Because of this, the prefix now has a connotation of "out-of-control" or "high energy". "Hypersensitive" (at least to me) sounds a lot stronger than "oversensitive".

Is there a term for this phenomenon? If so, I'd be interested in what other prefixes/suffixes changed their meaning like this.

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    As regards "crypto", I'm not altogether sure I agree with you. I see nothing that is "secure" about crypto-currencies - and for me "crypto" remains "hidden". – WS2 Dec 30 '17 at 17:49
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    I disagree with the premise about hyper-. As a prefix, it has always tended to have a more emphatic meaning than super-, which also means "over." Just take a glance at the ngrams for "hyperactive," "hypersensitive," and "hypertrophy" and see what a relative newcomer "hyperactive " is. The use of "hyper" as a word on its own, however, seems entirely due to "hyperactive." – David K Dec 30 '17 at 18:37

'Hyper' is an example of apocope.

Final Clipping or Apocope :

Final (or back) clipping is the most common type [of clipping], in which the beginning of the prototype is retained. The unclipped original may be either a simple or a composite. Examples are: ad (advertisement), cable (cablegram), doc (doctor), exam (examination), fax (facsimile), gas (gasoline), gym (gymnastics, gymnasium), memo (memorandum), mutt (muttonhead), pub (public house), pop (popular music).


'Shortening' 'clipping' or 'truncation' are descriptions of words being minimised in use.

Clipping only changes the length of the word, it does not change its meaning or its part of speech. A noun will still be a noun and it will mean exactly what it meant previously.

Initial Clipping or Apheresis :

Initial (or fore) clipping retains the final part of the prototype. Examples: bot (robot), chute (parachute), roach (cockroach), coon (raccoon), gator (alligator), phone (telephone), pike (turnpike), varsity (university), net (Internet).

There is also medial clipping :

Medial clipping, or Syncope

Words with the middle part of the word left out are equally few. They may be further subdivided into two groups: (a) words with a final-clipped stem retaining the functional morpheme: maths (mathematics), specs (spectacles); (b) contractions due to a gradual process of elision under the influence of rhythm and context. Thus, fancy (fantasy), ma'am (madam), and fo'c'sle may be regarded as accelerated forms.

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    This seems like an accurate explanation of the word "hyper," but the question asked about the prefix "hyper-". – David K Dec 30 '17 at 18:41
  • Fancy for Fantasy, is that a new shortening? I’ve never heard nor seen that shortening. – Jonny Henly Dec 30 '17 at 19:31
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    Thank you for this. It is very informative, and does answer the question. I have the impression that ‘hyper-‘ is used as something beyond ‘super-‘. So it connote an extreme. Thus we get ‘supersonic speeds but in science fiction ‘hyperdrive’ and ‘hyperspace’. – Tuffy Dec 31 '17 at 0:52

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