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app

noun [countable] informal

an application program designed for a particular purpose on a computer or mobile phone operating system

'Penguin has released one of the first book apps designed for babies as young as three months old, which will help enhance children's hearing, visual and motor skills.'

The Telegraph 10th January 2011

'… Would you use an app to order a takeaway? … Domino's Pizza has reported strong sales through its recently launched iPhone app – but would you order a takeaway on a phone?'

The Guardian 5th January 2011

'There's an app for that' … whether it's calorie counting, cricket scores, journey times, or Harry Potter, practically every type of social, leisure or work activity now manifests itself in the form of an app. It's perhaps understandable, then, that on the 7th January 2011 the American Dialect Society, an esteemed group of writers, editors, linguists, historians and other academics, chose app as its 'Word of the Year' for 2010.

The concept of the app – a neat little piece of software performing a particular function, typically on a mobile phone or similar hand-held device – has taken the world by storm in the last 18 months or so, catapulting the word itself into mainstream use. Two or three years ago, use of app as an abbreviation for application would largely have been confined to specific technical contexts. Now, by contrast, most people would recognize the term and immediately make the mental connection with an attractive little icon displayed on the screen of an iPhone or device of a similar level of sophistication.

whether it's calorie counting, journey times or Harry Potter, practically every type of leisure or work activity now manifests itself in the form of an app

As well as being boosted by the arrival of numerous app stores supplying applications for a wide range of mobile phones and computers, the word app's journey into general recognition has been galvanized by the aforementioned catchphrase 'There's an app for that'. The tagline, which plays a massive role in Apple's marketing and advertising initiatives around the iPhone, has permeated popular culture and is regularly parodied, even, for example, popping up in an episode of the popular TV show The Simpsons. The ubiquitous nature of the catchphrase led to Apple applying for trademark status, which was finally awarded in October 2010.

The word app has already found its way into mainstream English dictionaries on both sides of the Atlantic. The Macmillan Dictionary also covers the related term killer app, which describes a software application that is so popular and/or useful that it causes many people to buy the computer system on which it operates.

Background – app

As a shortened form of the word application, app represents a contemporary example of a process linguists refer to as clipping. Clipping, also known as truncation or simply shortening, occurs when a word is reduced to one of its component parts. Familiar examples include the use of ad in place of advertisement, lab rather than laboratory, or exam instead of examination. Clipping can occur in various ways, the most common of which is the removal of the end of a word as in app, ad, exam etc. Other variations include the removal of the beginning of the word (e.g. plane from aeroplane), and removal of both the beginning and end of the word to leave the middle part (e.g. flu from influenza). Another example of clipping which has emerged in recent years is use of the word blog instead of weblog. As blog and the other examples illustrate, clipped forms are easier to pronounce and spell and so often become more popular than their longer counterparts, frequently overtaking them in everyday usage.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 26th September 2011.

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