While I was researching a topic for this blog I came across the webpage “Every Word Can Be Abbreviated To Four Letters”. Last night, while pondering what a long word “maintenance” was, I was reminded of this page.
Can any English word be represented by four letters? There will be a few homographs. An early one I encountered was that “short” and “shirt” might both be “shrt”. “Shorts”, however, worked as “shts”. As the author of the page says, sometimes using five letters is necessary for clarity. Context plays a part, and use more letters if the meaning is unclear.
This idea has some merit as a shorthand for informal communications using type. A number of complimentary ideas occurred to me, in a system I call “4lsh”:
The first is that any noun (four letters or otherwise), becomes possessive by placing an apostrophe at the end. Unlike formal English, the apostrophe is always at the end, it never sometimes occurs before an “s” when used genitively. It can be used to mark a pronoun as genitive, when necessary. For example “their” becomes “thr'”. Apostrophes are still used to mark abbreviations and omissions. “Cant” and “wont” are different words to “can’t” and “won’t” so using the apostrophe increases clarity (which should be the guide in using any grammar system!).
Third person present inflection of verbs is dropped. “Needs” is just “need”, “thinks” is just “thnk (tink?)”. The “-ly” of some adverbs can be dropped if the meaning is clear. In Scots and informal English, this is already done for some words. For example “want it bad”, rather than “want it badly”.
Plurals are made by adding a terminal “-s”. Plurals of four-letter contractions will be five letters, the last letter being “-s”. Where possible irregular plurals are regularized. “Chlds” is “children”, “goozs” is “geese”, “knifs” is “knives” and “sheps” is “sheep”. Since this is a variant of English there will always be exceptions. “Oxen” is already an understandable four-letter plural, although “oxs” is possible.
Getting phonetic can help in the creation of 4lsh words. “Actn movi” is “action movie”. “Nslv” is “enslave”. “Thru” for “through”. Some words are clearer as hybrids of phonetic and traditional, “whol” being “whole”.
While vowels are used in 4lsh, one of the first moves in creating a word is to see what it looks like without its vowels. “Maintenance” becomes “mntnnc” for “mtnc”. Certain terminal letter combinations will often represent a particular phoneme, or similar phonemes. A terminal “-g ”is often “-ing”“-r” is often “-er”, “-or”, “-ar” or “-ir”. “-d” is “-ed” and adding it to a 4lish word makes a past tense or passive participle. “-l” will often be “-al” but may be “-le”, while “-bl” is “-able”. or “-ible”. “-n” may be “-ion” or “-en”. “-st” is either “-est” or “-ist”, depending on the word. Being English-based, there will be exceptions! The original page suggests “addr” for “address”, but it could be read as “adder”. “Adrs” might be an alternative for “address”.
4lsh can be combined with other abbreviation systems such as that proposed by Molee or Dutton’s single-letter Speedwords and correlatives.
For English, Molee initially suggested nine abbreviations, but expanded the system in later books:
e (the), b (be) hd (had), v (of), bn (been), n (and), t (to), h (have), hs (has), nsf (etc), u (you), shl (shall), shd (should), wd (would), cd (could), whc (which), whn (when), whr (where), wht (what), thn (then), tm (time), ths (this), thr (there), tht (that), cm (come), cn (can), wl (will), ws (was), wth (with), s (is), z (as).
An ampersand (&) could be used for “and”, but “n” is more convenient on a keyboard. It could be confused with “no” unless the capital is reserved for “no”. “nsf” for “etc” is redundant. Possible additions to the “Molee codes” are: cnt (cannot/ can’t), wnt (won’t), bt (but), wr (were), thr' (their), ar (are), bg (being), xg (thing), ys (yes), x (it) and nt (not), the latter compounding with cd, shl, shd, wd etc.