global English language change and slang

From HuffPo to SuBo

Articles in the press about the Huffington Post, the American news and politics website recently acquired by AOL, often refer to it as ‘HuffPo’. I’m not sure how we describe short forms like this: they don’t quite fit any of the familiar categories such as abbreviations (DNA, Dr., e.g., omg), acronyms (AIDS, NATO, TED), contractions (can’t, let’s), or blends (Bollywood, Spanglish, edutainment). But they are becoming increasingly common.

An early example is SoHo, a neighbourhood in Manhattan which is in the area south of Houston Street – hence So[uth of] Ho[uston]. The name was applied when the area underwent gentrification in the early 1970s, as artists and other creative types moved in. Other parts of New York City have subsequently been named using the same model, including TriBeCa (the Triangle Below Canal Street), NoLita (the area North of Little Italy), and LoMEx (the Lower Manhattan Expressway). An even earlier representative of this type (though in this case without the use of capitals within the word) is the city of Soweto in South Africa. During the apartheid era this name was given to the African townships outside Johannesburg – the white authorities evidently didn’t think it was worth dreaming up a ‘proper’ name, so they just called the area the southwest townships (hence Soweto). But what started as a perfunctory name became a symbol of resistance to apartheid.

Institutions can also be named in this way: New York’s Museum of Modern Art is generally referred to as MoMA. And so, occasionally, can people. Celebrity magazines use what is sometimes called meshing to describe well-known couples like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (Brangelina), but TomKat (Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes) seems to follow the SoHo model. Jennifer Lopez released an album called ‘J.Lo’ in 2001, and the name stuck. More recently, the Scottish singer Susan Boyle has acquired the name SuBo.

The use of this convention for naming places and neighbourhoods seems especially prevalent in New York City, but perhaps readers of the blog know of other places whose names follow this model. And if anyone knows what these items are called, or what other kinds of ‘object’ can be named in this way, we’d be pleased to hear from you.

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Michael Rundell


  • There are quite a few more in New York City, actually. There is also the vaguely tech-sounding FiDi (Financial District), the dubious SoBro (which is just trendy updating of the notorious South Bronx) and SoHo’s northern brother, NoHo. DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) is also a quite famous neighborhood, although that’s obviously more of an acronym.

    Outside of NYC, San Francisco has SoMa (South of Market) and Seattle has SoDo (South of Downtown). Those are the only two outside of New York that I can think of off the top of my head, but I’m sure there are more.

  • Belatedly, thanks a lot Ben for all those new (well, new to me) examples of the HuffPo type. It looks like this model has a great future.

  • Would these short forms perhaps count as a particular group (i.e. proper noun-based) of blends of what linguists refer to as “clipped” forms – you know ‘ad’ from ‘advertisement’, that sort of thing? The same sort of process occurs with nouns which aren’t names, so e.g. sitcom (situation comedy). A newer example I’ve recently come across is ‘finlit’ (financial literacy’).

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