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The following sometimes happens in the development of English language.

A phrase from a foreign language is imported into English. English speakers find the phrase useful, but long and cumbersome. They deal with it by dropping a part of it, and so reducing it to what seems to them to be a more manageable length. The dropped part is, however, essential to the meaning that the phrase has in the language of its origin; the shortened form of the phrase thus has a very different meaning in that language, or, sometimes, no meaning at all. In English, the shortened form of the phrase nevertheless continues to be used with the same meaning as the original, full-length one; that becomes established as its meaning in English.

Caffè latte thus became latte (even though in Italian that is a word for [unadorned] milk), chef de cuisine became chef (which is, in French, a term for somebody who heads an organisation of any kind, including those that have nothing to do with food preparation), maître d'hôtel became maître d' (literally 'master of', an incomplete expression), chaise longue became, at least in American English, chaise, and obiter dicta became dicta. An older example of what is essentially the same phenomenon can be seen in the shortening of omnibus to bus (which is, in Latin, a dative-forming suffix with no independent meaning).

Is there a term for this kind of a phenomenon? Note that the question is specifically about this shortening of foreign phrases, not about the broader phenomenon of foreign words acquiring in English different meanings from the ones they have in their languages of origin.

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    It's often called just shortening or clipping, but it isn't limited to foreign phrases or words. We do the same thing with English words or phrases if they get used very often. Since English never has quite the same sounds or words as the borrowed chunk, it's inevitable that it will be changed, sometimes greatly, when English speakers try to pronounce it. They will eventually settle on something (or several somethings, depending on where one lives and speaks), but it might not resemble the original much. Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 0:02
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    I've never heard dicta used instead of obiter dicta. But typically we shorten things because why say three words when one will do? And why say four syllables (chef de cuisine) when one (chef) will do? And if everyone is doing it ... well, "when in Rome ..."
    – Robusto
    Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 0:56
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    @Robusto, Professor Lawler's comment, I take it, implies that there is no specific term for this kind of shortening/clipping. Fair enough, that, combined with the absence of other answers from comparably qualified people, may well be the answer.
    – jsw29
    Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 4:39
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    @Laurel, I would prefer not to say nonsensical, as the shortened forms do have a definite sense in English; they are jarring only to those who are aware of their meaning in the language of origin.
    – jsw29
    Commented Jul 25, 2023 at 13:25
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    For what its worth, the short form of obiter dictum/a is not dicta: it is "obiter": -- 1993 With respect, however, to overseas trading transactions it is clear from..the obiter in IRC v Frere (1964) 42 TC 125 that one looks to the net trading income. P. C. Soares, Non-resident Trusts 74Citation details. -- Indeed, the "obiter" part is the important part.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Jul 25, 2023 at 17:02

2 Answers 2

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In a comment John Lawler wrote:

It's often called just shortening or clipping, but it isn't limited to foreign phrases or words. We do the same thing with English words or phrases if they get used very often. Since English never has quite the same sounds or words as the borrowed chunk, it's inevitable that it will be changed, sometimes greatly, when English speakers try to pronounce it. They will eventually settle on something (or several somethings, depending on where one lives and speaks), but it might not resemble the original much.

As shortening/clipping is a concept that covers much more than what is described in the question, Professor Lawler's comment implies that there is no specific term for that phenomenon.

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  • Some comments under the question seem to assume that every Anglophone who uses, say, chef or maître d' does or should know that it's "short" for chef de cuisine or maître d'hôtel. But of course, that's not how it works - all that matters is the initial syllable[s] aren't an existing word, so there's no scope for confusion. And you don't need to know a foreign language to make use of a few "Anglicized" foreign expressions. Who cares if what's left after shortening isn't "idiomatic / valid" in its original language, once it's become incorporated into our language? Commented Jul 25, 2023 at 18:10
  • @FumbleFingers, I don't think that anybody assumes that; indeed the shortening is probably initiated precisely by those who don't speak the language from which the phrase is imported. And it's true that, in so far as one's aim is to communicate successfully in English (e.g. to get a latte), it doesn't matter that the phrase means something else in another language. Such shortenings are nevertheless jarring to those who do understand the language of the phrase's origin, and I suspect that, at least initially, they are reluctant to use them.
    – jsw29
    Commented Jul 26, 2023 at 16:14
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Another possible word for shortening a word or a saying in a language other than English is the word elliptical. From Merriam-Webster:

de gustibus, de gus·​ti·​bus, dēˈgəstəbəs, dāˈgu̇stē bu̇s :

concerning taste. "I still detest the sound of him, but de gustibus"— Jean Stafford —used elliptically for its full Latin original or its translation [my emphasis]

The full saying in Latin should be: De gustibus non est disputandum

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