Syncope: Definition and Examples

Syncope (derives from Greek combination ‘syn’ and ‘koptein’, meaning “to strike off,” or “cutting from the middest”), is a kind of metaplasmOpens in new window which consists in the shortening of words, by which letters or syllablesOpens in new window are omitted from the middle of a word or phrase, as:

  1. “ma’am” instead of “madam;” or
  2. “good-bye” instead of “God be with you.”

However, if the omission occurs in manner of error or negligence it is considered a barbarismOpens in new window.

By virtue of poetic licenseOpens in new window, syncope is often employed for reasons of meterOpens in new window or euphonyOpens in new window. This was the case when Shakespeare’s Claudius after being sure of Hamlet’s death offered: “Howe’er my haps, my joys were ne’er begun” (4.3.69).

Notable Examples

Cases of syncope is frequent in vowel loss; where words like medicine is pronounced /’medsin/; library as /’laibri/. It also extends to consonant loss where we have however syncopated into howe'er and boatswain into bosun.

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