A rhetorical and phonological term for the omission of one or more sounds or syllables from the beginning of a word. Also spelled apheresis. Adjective: aphetic. Also called syllabic loss or initial vowel loss.
Common examples of aphaeresis include round (from around), specially (from especially), and spy (from espy). Note that the deleted initial sound is usually a vowel. See Examples and Observations, below.
From the Greek, "taking away"
Examples and Observations:
- "Children learning to speak first tend to retain only the final syllable of words (-nette for marionnette, -range for orange), then two syllables (-anna for nanna, -octor for doctor). Loose pronunciation ('xactly for exactly) has thus something childish about it. But in 'tention! (for Attention!) economy of effort and efficiency come into play.
"Like apocope, aphaeresis most commonly involves the slack use of an expression rather than a literary device."
(Bernard Dupriez, A Dictionary of Literary Devices, trans. by Albert W. Halsall. Univ. of Toronto Press, 1991)
- New Words From Old
"Aphaeresis has given us a number of new words, like drawing-room (from withdrawing-room), fend (from defend; whence fender), sport (from disport), and stain (from distain). A number are aphetic in the narrow sense: pert (from now obsolete apert, going back ultimately to Latin appertus 'open'), peal (from appeal), mend (from amend), fray (from affray), the verb ply (from apply), the adjective live (from alive), spy (from espy), and tend (from both attend and intend). In the above cases, significant semantic development followed the aphaeresis, so that one does not normally connect in one's mind the shortened and the original longer forms."
(The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories, 1991)
- Aphaeresis in Contemporary Speech
"Contrary to the substitution and addition of syllables, syllabic loss, known as aphaeresis, is not at all uncommon. In particular, the constraints under which it operates are exactly the ones predicted by the speech error data. The omissions occur in word-initial positions and affect unstressed syllables containing reduced vowels. Quite often, the syllable only consists of a vowel. . . .
"Indeed, aphaeresis occurs on a wide scale in the spoken language of today (and yesterday). . . . Typical examples include about in How 'bout that? and unless in I ain't going 'less you do. . . . Relaxed circumstances are all that is needed for aphaeresis to occur."
(Thomas Berg, Linguistic Structure and Change: An Explanation From Language Processing. Oxford University Press, 1998)
- The Lighter Side of Aphaeresis
"I can't kill the possum [for opossum], 'cause [for because] it might be innocent. I can't let the possum go, because it might be guilty. Can't make a good soup, can't do a handstand in a pool. Can't spell the word 'lieutenant.' There are a lot of cant's in my life right now."
(Amy Poehler as Lesley Knope in "The Possum." Parks and Recreation, 2010)