When Were Contractions Invented?

Yesterday, I showed a funny video of comedian Gary Gulman making jokes about abbreviations and contractions. That got me wondering, where did contractions come from? Were they really invented by one person? Let’s find out in today’s edition of Wonder Why Wednesday…

When Were Contractions Invented?

Contractions can be traced back to sometime between 450 AD – 1150 AD. Not surprisingly, Old English from this time was very different from what we speak today. Here’s how TodayIFoundOut.com says contractions came about:

In the 5th century, several groups, notably the Angles and the Saxons, began to invade, and they brought their Germanic languages and rune alphabets with them, along with several well-established contractions. These included shortened forms for “is not” (nis, today, “isn’t”), “did not have” (ne haefde), “was not” (ne waes, today “wasn’t”) and “would not” (wolde, today “wouldn’t).

Years later, Early Middle English led to more contractions, including: I’ll (I will), ‘twould (it would) and ’twill (it will). Negative contractions also became popular, including: every form including can’t (cannot), don’t (do not), shan’t (shall not), mayn’t (may not)and won’t (will not).

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, won’t first appeared in the mid-15th century as wynnot and then wonnot. It wasn’t until the mid-17th century that the form we are used to today was recorded. In the 1630s, don’t was first found. Can’t and ain’t first appeared in print in 1706. Ain’t was originally a contraction only for “am not,” but by the early 1800s, it was also used to mean a variety of other things including “are not,” “is not,” “have not,” and “has not.”


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