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Posted by on Jan 26, 2008 in At TMV | 1 comment

The Secret Joy of the Hypocoristic


TMV editor and co-blogger Holly in Cincinnati noted in an email to me that the major Republican candidates have first names which are four-letter words — as in John, Mitt, Mike and Rudy.

As a former newspaper headline writer and present-day blog headline writer, this is manna from heaven.


Because of the limited amount of space in some headlines.





This works perfectly well when there’s the space, but when a copy desk chief shoots you a headline order that allows you only five or six characters per deck, or line, you have a problem.

The solution:




If a personage with a longish name doesn’t have a nickname, chances are headline writers will find one through hypocoristics, or giving a lesser form to a given name such as . . . well, Rudy.

Elizabeth is perhaps the most hypocoristic-able name in the English language because there are so many lesser forms, including Bess, Bessie, Bette, Bet, Betty, Beth, Betsy, Eliza, Elise, Elsa, Elsie, Elle, Ella, Lisa, Leesy, Lisbeth, Lissie, Libby, Lily, Lizzie, Liz and Liza.

The best recent-ish example of a hypocoristic is “Ike,” the moniker given Dwight D. Eisenhower not by headline writers but by his family as a child as a lesser, more easily prounceable form of his last name.

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  • DLS

    Errors are the first thing that catches the literate reader’s eye, and disrupt the process of conveying information and ideas that literature is intended to do. (“Breaks the spell,” complete with quotes, is how I also described this in a letter to a newspaper decades ago that I wrote in my youth published as “Please Use Correct English in the Newspaper.”) There is no such word as “Howcum” and it raises additional questions as to why such a strange non-word would be used.

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