Saturday, October 05, 2013

The Small –o

Anna asked why the suffix –o shows up in so many product names. She cited Jello, Beano, and Brillo as examples.

To be honest, I don’t know how many brand names use the –o- ending. Off the top of my head, I can add Oreo, Eggo, Zippo, and Crisco. I do know that one of the first products to use the terminal –o in its name was Oxo, a concentrated meat extract invented in Britain in1840. At first it was in liquid form; by 1910, a cube form had been introduced.

In some cases, the –o ends the word as a result of truncation. One example that occurs to me is the Mallo Cup, a candy treat that I loved as a child. It was a chocolate cup filled with a creamy marshmallow center. Quite obviously, the manufacturer shortened marshmallow to Mallo.

A special subcategory for truncation emerges when the terminal –o is preceded by the letter c. In this case, rather than being a product name, it signifies a company or corporation. Examples include Pepsico, Aramco, Masco, and Cisco.

In other cases, words may have been borrowed from the Italian or Spanish, for example, retaining the –o ending from the original -- or the use of –o may be simulation or imitation. Progresso Soup and the Chevy Silverado come to mind.

My Irish uncle used to refer to me as boyo, an example showing that the –o ending is sometimes used in a colloquial term of familiarity or whimsicality. It’s purely subjective, of course, but I think that Zippo, Brillo, Beano, and Wham-O are rather jaunty.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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