An Introduction to Syncope

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:

  • “ma’am” instead of “madam;” or
  • “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.

Further Readings:
Thomas O. Sloane | Encyclopedia of Rhetoric, Volume 1: Syncope (pg.763)Opens in new window
ThoughtsCo | Glossary of Rhetorical Terms: SyncopeOpens in new window
Silva Rhetoricae | Figures: SyncopeOpens in new window