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The letter o is used in different combinations with words to make them more colloquial as suggested from the following extract.

-o generally does not change the meaning of the word, only making it more colloquial, often with elision (like clipping, but with a suffix), and is primarily applied to nouns, as in kiddo (“kid”) or preso (“presentation”). Common words that are shortened with the -o include journalist/journo, repository/repo, distribution/distro. Can change the way a word is written, like ugly/uggo and dog/doggo. (Wiktionary)

Where does the above connotation and usage of the letter o as a suffix originate from?

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  • Oh oh, spaghetti-O! – Barmar Jan 31 at 0:27
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Here is what the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says about that the suffix -o.

It originates from three separate sources.

First, in some cases it comes from the final syllable of words that come from Romance languages.

Second, in some cases it results from shortening a word that had a medial o. This was especially likely to happen in compound words which the truncation happened after a prefix (or other combining form) that ends in -o.

Third, in still other cases, it came from the second element in such exclamatory phrases as heave ho and hey-ho. This second element might have had one of the three forms: ho, O, or oh. This ending then got attached both full words and to their truncations.

Discussion

All of the information comes from the OED.

The first source: words coming from Romance languages

Prior to the 16th century, when English would borrow words from Romance languages that ended in -o, the final vowel would be removed, because that fit better with the English phonetics. But starting in the early 16th century, English started borrowing such words from Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish without discarding the final vowel (Morisco, frizado, etc.). Up to that point, English didn't have unstressed final long vowels, and so there emerged a tendency to confuse the final o and a. In fact, in spelling, the final o often replaced not only a, but other syllables as well. It is in this period that we got camisado from Spanish camisada, for example. This tendency continued into the 17th century and beyond, producing e.g. mango and lingo from Portuguese manga and lingua. Sometimes, English words were coined as imitations of Romance loanwords. For example, stingo (strong ale or beer) appears to have been formed from the perfectly Anglo-Saxon sting (in allusion to the sharp taste) by adding the final -o so as to sound Spanish or Italian. By the late 18th century, the final -o had become commonplace enough in English that it started to appear in new words of undetermined origin, e.g. bingo and rhino.

The second source: the medial -o

The earliest examples come from the late 17th cent. and early 18th centuries, when we got e.g. plenipo from plenipotentiary, memo from memorandum, and (now obsolete) hypo from hypochondria. What happens is that the longer word is truncated after an o that appears in the middle, particularly if this o occurs at the end of a prefix or a combining form. One result was that people started to associate the ending -o with a casual or light-hearted tone, a tendency that survives to this day. In the early 19th century we get e.g. loco from locomotive. This type of truncation become very common after the middle of 19th century, and is very common still.

The third source: heave-ho etc.

As early as late Middle English (approximately 1400-1500), the attachments ho, O, and oh begin to be attached to other words to form conventional cries and refrains such as heave ho and hey-ho. This practice continued, with alive ho! appeareang no later than the early 1700s. In the later 1800s and early 1900s, we get righto, billy-o, and cheero. Particularly in the second half of the 19th century, a number of words are formed in this way to form refrain-like or evocative expressions, but which are then used as ordinary nouns and adjectives. Sometimes these are written as hyphenated compounds. Examples include smoke-ho ('A stoppage of work in order to rest and smoke. More generally, a tea-break, a rest period. Also, a cup of tea or a snack taken at work.'), bottle-oh ('A person who collects empty bottles and sells them for reuse.'), and dead-oh ('dead drunk'). From the early 20th century, we get rabbit-o ('A (usually itinerant) seller of rabbits as food.'), and from the middle of the 20th century, daddy-o (meaning daddy, in various colloquial senses). Other words formed that way are written with as having a suffix -o, and it is somewhat arbitrary whether one wishes to count them as examples of the present suffix. The earliest example that shows a clear transition from the hyphenated to the non-hyphenated form is milko ('a milkman'); other examples in the same category are, from the late 1800s, kiddo and Relievo ('a children's seeking game in which a captured player may be released by another member of his or her side'), and, from the first half of the 20th century, whizzo ('excellent, wonderful') and socko (as an adjective, 'stunningly effective or successful'; as a noun, 'a success, a hit').

From the early 1900s, the addition of the suffix -o to form new words becomes very common. So we got wino, whacko ('An exclamation of delight or excitement: Splendid! Excellent! Hurrah!'), and cheapo. The word beano , from the second half of the 19th century, is probably the earliest example of the addition of -o to a truncated word (it was originally bean-feast). Examples from Australia include Salvo ('a member of the Salvation Army; plural, the Salvation Army') and robbo (originally apparently formed from the proper name Robinson, it means 'a horse and trap, esp. one in a ramshackle condition; the driver or hirer of one of these. In extended use: an inferior, substandard, or decrepit person or thing'). In the 20th century, we got e.g. wacko and ammo. In Australia, several such formations appeared, e.g. arvo ('afternoon').

The suffix is often used to create product names. Early examples, from the late 1800s, are blanco ('A white preparation for whitening accoutrements; also, a similar preparation of khaki colouring') and Oxo ('An extract of beef, originally a liquid, now usually formed into a cube designed to dissolve on contact with hot water, used as the basis of drinks, soups, and gravies; (also) the drink made from this extract. Frequently attributive as Oxo cube.')

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  • I knew that Australian English really likes the -o suffix, but I didn't know that we basically invented it. – nick012000 Jan 30 at 12:47
  • @linguisticturn You're right, "plagiarism" wasn't quite the right word. You got the point though, I think. :) – IMSoP Jan 30 at 16:23
  • @IMSoP Rewrite done. – linguisticturn Feb 1 at 16:59
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Michael Quinion's online dictionary of affixes suggests in its entry for "-o":

Perhaps from the interjection oh!, or the use of ‑o in ballads to terminate lines; its use has been reinforced by shortened forms ending in the linking vowel ‑o‑.

The example of "repository" -> "repo" may well fall into the last case: although the etymology would logically split it into "reposi-" + "-tory", the use of "o" to link words is so common, that it feels natural to split it as "repo-" + "-sitory".

Other examples are simply mimicking an existing pattern; I believe this form is particularly common in Australian English. So there may be no specific origin of the word "uggo" other than "lots of other words end that way in our dialect, so this seems natural".

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The OED goes into great detail on the origin of the suffix –o which is used for forming:

(i) interjections, as whacko int., whammo int.

(ii) familiar, informal equivalents of nouns and adjectives, as (from truncated word-forms) aggro n. and adj., combo n., kiddo n.;

(iii) personal nouns from non-personal nouns, as milko n., wino n

(iv) nouns from adjectives, as pinko n., weirdo n.

In short:

1 It first appeared in words borrowed from Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, etc. and was also used, in an imitative manner, when the final vowel was “a”. (manga – mango; lingua/lingo, etc.) This was quite popular, and some English words simply had an “-o” added (stingo = strong beer).

2 It later occurred when a long word was truncated at the “o” sound: memo n., and hypo n.1

3 Finally it was introduced as the light-hearted addition of the ho!/o!/oh! to complete words and truncated words. (something that it generally does today.) heave-ho, hey-ho int.; alive ho! is attested from the early 18th cent. Expressions such as righto, billy-o, cheerio, appeared in the late 19th and early 20th century.

From the early 20th cent. the addition of the suffix to complete words to form nouns, adjectives, and interjections of all kinds becomes very common, e.g. wino n.1, whacko int., and cheapo adj.

The earliest example of a truncated word without an ‘o’ in it but with ‘o’ as a suffix is “beano” (1888) = “bean-feast”

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  • I was already working on a summary of the OED entry: I feel loathe to let it go. – Greybeard Jan 29 at 20:51
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One reason, especially in Australian English I believe, relates to the idea of a meme - especially in its original Darwinian sense as propounded by Richard Dawkins.

1: an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.
Memes (discrete units of knowledge, gossip, jokes and so on) are to culture what genes are to life. Just as biological evolution is driven by the survival of the fittest genes in the gene pool, cultural evolution may be driven by the most successful memes. — Richard Dawkins https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/meme.

If lots of people do it, it becomes fashionable, if it's fashionable, more people do it. However this is not enough. If it also turns out to be both convenient and useful, people will continue to do it. The meme will then survive.

Here are just a few used commonly in Australia. Selected from here 30 Aussie Slang Words Ending With ‘O’

Ambo. Ambulance.
Arvo. Afternoon.
Defo. Definitely.
Devo. Devastated.
Doco. Documentary.
Hospo. Hospitality.
Journo. A journalist.
Muso. Musician.
Preggo. Pregnant.
Relo. Relative.
Servo. Service station. Typo. Typing error.

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