I came up with the term "sillification" to describe a what I perceive as a recent phenomenon in American English among young people. I'm curious to know what others think about this.



A. The linguistic phenomenon in the US whereby English words are altered to form a silly-sounding variation in informal speech.

Sillification contrasts with the widespread phenomenon of forming abbreviations in American English, as words formed via sillification are often the same length as, or longer than, their original counterparts.

B. Words created through such a process.

There are various sub-sections of the sillification category, including:
a) "Cutes-ifications" — Words that are made to sound cutesy, usually by emulating baby talk.
b) Adjectival/Noun Sillifications — Silly-sounding adjectives and nouns usually formed by adding a suffix to, or another word within, an existing word.
c) Silly Mispronunciations — Words that are purposely mispronounced for a silly-sounding effect.


1. Regular Sillifications:
a) “Redonculous” (ridiculous)
b) “Cray cray” or “cray” (crazy)
c) “Driz-unk” Emotion: drunk
d) “Preggers” (pregnant)
e) “Funzies” (fun)
f) “Coolio” Emotion: cool
g) “Bi-atch” (***)
h) “Crack-a-lackin'” (crackin')
i) “Absotutely” (absolutely)
j) “Dillio” (deal)

2. Cutes-ifications:
a) “Tum tum” (tummy)
b) “Din din” (dinner)
c) “Doggie” Emotion: dog
d) “Kitty” Emotion: cat
e) “Horsey” (horse)
f) “Thingies” (things)
g) “Undies” (underwear)

3. Adjectival/Noun Sillifications:
a) Adding "-licious" to the ends of words, e.g. “bootylicious”
b) Adding "-tastic" or "-tacular" to the ends of words, e.g. “***-tastic,” “craptacular”
c) Adding "-ball" to the ends of words, e.g. “goofball,” “cornball,” “sketchball”
d) Adding "***'" to the middle of an adjective, e.g. “fan-***-tastic”

4. Silly Mispronunciations:
a) “Par-tay” Emotion: party
b) “Boo-tay” (booty)
c) “Liberry” (library)
d) “Tar-jay” (Target)
1 2
I do not think this is a recent phenomenon nor is it restricted to the US. It just shows people like to have fun with words.
Well, the discussion originally began by comparing English to Spanish, specifically how American English uses many more abbreviations than Spanish. However, I noted that while Americans do have a great tendency to abbreviate words that are longer than a few syllables, at the same time there seems to be this pattern of creating silly versions of words that are often times the same length or even longer than the original word. I could not think of any sillifications in Spanish though (I am not a native speaker so I may be wrong on this end, but I have an extensive background in Spanish). Therefore this phenomenon, while perhaps not restricted to the US or the English language, seems to not be common in every language or place. And that struck me as interesting.
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
The "Cutes-ifications" have all been around in British English for at least half a century and probably longer.

Spanish has cutes-ification built in with its widespread use of diminutive suffixes: angelito, pobrecito, postrecito, bonito etc. I cannot say a lot about the sort of abbreviations which young people use as I do get to speak to Spanish youths that much and of course they only tend to use them when speaking to each other. However, I have heard cole and uni for colegio and universidad. The Spanish do go in for acronyms when they follow Spanish phonology: e.g. CARE = Centro de Alta Resolución de Especialidades.
I wasn't denying that Spanish uses abbreviations (others include boli for bolígrafo, peli for película), but abbreviations are much less common in Spanish than in English. This is the list that my boyfriend and I began developing for abbreviations in English:

1. Regular Abbreviations
  • Legit (legitimate)
  • Uj (usual)
  • Schej (schedual)
  • Convo (conversation)
  • Comp Emotion: computer
  • Redic (ridiculous)
  • Haps (happenings)
  • Abbrev (abbreviation)
  • Meds (medications)
  • Tat (tattoo)
  • Biz/showbiz (business/show business)
  • Sneaks (sneakers)
  • Sci fi (sci fi)
  • Rom Com/ Zom Rom Com (romantic comedy/ zombie romantic comedy)
  • ‘Do (hairdo)
  • Biblio (bibliography)
  • Fav (favorite)
  • Offish (official)
  • Totes (totally)
  • Adorbs (adorable)
  • Bennies (benefits)
  • Inappropo/Inappropro (inappropriate)
  • Delish (delicious)
  • Obv/Obvi (obvious)
  • Poly sci (political science)
  • Bio (biography)
  • Geo (geology)
  • Whatevs (whatever)
  • Sitch (situation)
  • Peeps (people)
2. Verbifications
  • Skyping
  • Googling
  • G-chatting
  • Facebooking
  • Facebook-messaging
  • Tweeting
  • Texting
  • IM-ing
  • Gaming
  • Clubbing
  • Dance related: Contra-ing, swing-dancing, blues-dancing
  • Weather related: Blizzarding, thunder-storming, lightninging
  • Horseback-ride
3. Abbreviations that have become words
  • Ad
  • Muscle related, e.g. abs
  • Fax
  • Cello
  • Tux
  • Bus
  • Auto
  • Bra
  • Shorts
  • Prom
  • Perm
  • Phone
  • Quint
  • Tech
  • Sync
  • Trans
  • Bi
  • Tee (T-shirt)
  • Jeans
  • Temp
  • Contacts (contact lenses)
  • Lube
  • Pants
  • Lit
  • Math
  • Quote
  • Metro
  • Goth
  • Emo
  • Vibe
  • Fan
  • Email
  • Mini
  • Mayo
  • Carbs
  • Hippo
  • Rhino
As these examples show, abbreviations are much more common in English than in Spanish. I think the frequent verbifications that occur in English, usually related to technology but sometimes related to a certain sub-culture (e.g. the dance community), also serve as interesting proof of the fact that English speakers like to shorten words as much as possible. We'd much rather say "Skype with my sister" than "talk to my sister via Skype."

As for the cutesifications, the diminutives are a good example of that in Spanish that I didn't think of; I still can't think of any "regular sillifications" in Spanish though. I am also not an expert on British English, so I don't question you on that one. I was simply writing about a phenomenon I've been witnessing in my own country.
The widespread use of abbreviations in English was moreover one of the reasons I found sillification so interesting: while much of the time English-speakers are "linguistically lazy" and tend to abbreviate longer words and phrases, with sillification oftentimes the reverse happens and the resulting word is longer than the original. Also, "bonito" is not an example of a diminutive in Spanish-- it is an adjective that stands on its own meaning "pretty" or "nice."
Teachers: We supply a list of EFL job vacancies
MrPedantic, two things:

1) "Sillification" I think isn't a helpful term, as it's implicitly laden with a value judgment.

2) What you refer to as "sillification" is as old as language itself, and much of the history of Latin is a perfect example. The Latin word for "ear" is "auris", for instance, but not a single one of Latin's descendant languages has a direct cognate. Instead, the Latin diminutive "auricula", meaning something like "earie", became the standard term, and yields modern French "oreille", Spanish "oreja", Romanian "ureche", Portuguese "orelha", etc.
In 1957 Tolkien used the word sillification to describe the BBCs adaptation of LoTR. Not sure exactly what he meant by the word but the context suggested it wasn't a good thing.
Sillification Has been used pretty extensively in my experience by smarter people just wanting to express have something has become more silly over time, So no without calling it linguistic sillification specifically, just taking the word sillification and suggesting it should ALWAYS pertain to language is not going to work. It is far too widely used already to be accepted in such a narrow definition.
Site Hint: Check out our list of pronunciation videos.
Show more