Jargon: n. A family or group of related bacteriophages, which are viruses that attack bacteria.


Etymology: Several word-formation processes occurred to create the word “pham”. First, “phage” arose as a clipping of “bacteriophage,” then “phage” was blended with “family” to create “phamily,” and finally “phamily” was clipped to form “pham.” Though the word “bacteriophage” dates back to the early 1920s, it is unclear when the word “pham” came about because it seems to be fairly new, and it is typically used in more casual conversations among scientists and students.

Survival Predictions: This word is used pretty exclusively within scientific communities, so I think it will survive for a while but I doubt it will ever become common in general English speech. I think the popularity of the clipping “pham” may have come about because in speech, “phamily” is indistinguishable from “family” without sufficient context. Although “fam” is now a common clipping in casual English language, those two clippings are probably far less likely to be confused because “fam” is an extremely casual slang term.

Lexopinions: I think this word is interesting because of the many complicated word-formation process it went through to become its own word. I also find it amusing that in biology, a field full of complex technical language, words related to phages that start with “f” start with a “ph” instead, causing experts to use what seem to outsiders as silly puns as part of their technical vocabulary.


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