A word formed from the initial letters of a name (for example, NATO, from North Atlantic Treaty Organization) or by combining initial letters of a series of words (radar, from radio detection and ranging). Adjective: acronymic.
An anacronym is an acronym (or other initialism) for which the expanded form isn't widely known, such as OSHA or UNIX.
- Guidelines for Using Capital Letters
- Name That -nym
- Proper Name
- RAS Syndrome
- Ten Tips for Using Abbreviations in Formal Writing
Etymology:From the Greek, "point" + "name"
Examples and Observations:
- Acronyms and Abbreviations
"The difference between acronyms and abbreviations is this: acronyms are proper words created from the initial letter or two of the words in a phrase, and they are pronounced like other words (cf. snafu, radar, laser, or UNESCO). By contrast, abbreviations do not form proper words, and so they are pronounced as strings of letters, for example, S.O.B., IOU, U.S.A., MP, lp, or tv."
(Keith Allan and Kate Burridge, Euphemism and Dysphemism. Oxford Univ. Press, 1991)
- "I have a couple of lists that I can refer to throughout the day, but I don't have the official 'FAT' book yet. Yes, it really is called the FAT (Federal Acronym and Terms) book."
- "There is only one known pre-20th-century word with an acronymic origin . . .: colinderies or colinda, an acronym for the Colonial and Indian Exposition (1886)."
(David Wilton, Word Myths, 2004)
- ABBA: The name of this 1970s Swedish pop group was derived from the first names of the group's members: Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny, and Anni-Frid.
- BOMFOG: from the initial letters in "Brotherhood Of Man, Fatherhood Of God." First used by journalists to refer to a familiar theme in Nelson Rockefeller's speeches; now refers to pious blather of any kind.
- KISS: from "Keep It Simple, Stupid"--advice often given to speakers and writers.
- Acronymic Textspeak
"Many acronyms meant to be written have wormed their way into spoken language--just ask your BFF, or the co-worker who prefaces everything with 'FYI.' Lately, this is also the case for Internet slang.
"First developed about 20 years ago to streamline conversation on chat platforms like Usenet and IRC and popularized on AOL instant messenger and Gmail chat, terms like LOL (laugh out loud), OMG (oh my God) and BTW (by the way) now seem to be popping up in real life (IRL)."
(Douglas Quenqua, "Alphabet Soup." The New York Times, September 23, 2011)
NIMBY: from "Not In My Back Yard"--for a person who opposes anything scheduled to be built near his or her residence.
"Re-branding FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) doesn't fix the problem; it just puts a new acronym on it."
- The Ancient Roots of Acronymy
"Acronymy has ancient roots, as illustrated by the early Christian use of the Greek word ichthys meaning 'fish' as an acronym for Iēsous Christos, Theou Huios, Sōtēr ('Jesus Christ, God's son, Savior'). In English, the first known acronyms (as opposed to plain old initialisms) cropped up in the telegraphic code developed by Walter P. Phillips for the United Press Association in 1879. The code abbreviated 'Supreme Court of the United States' as SCOTUS and 'President of the . . .' as POT, giving way to POTUS by 1895. Those shorthand labels have lingered in journalistic and diplomatic circles--now joined by FLOTUS, which of course stands for 'First Lady of the United States.'"
(Ben Zimmer, "On Language: Acronym." The New York Times Magazine, Dec. 19, 2010)
- The Lighter Side of Acronyms
Mr. Brown: Now this is a simple acronym: H.E.R.O. At Diversity, we believe it's very easy to be a hero. All you need are: Honesty, Empathy, Respect, and Open-mindedness.
Dwight Schrute: Excuse me, I'm sorry, but that's not all it takes to be a hero.
Mr. Brown: Okay well, what is a hero to you?
Dwight Schrute: A hero kills people, people that wish him harm. A hero is part human and part supernatural. A hero is born out of a childhood trauma, or out of a disaster, and must be avenged.
Mr. Brown: Uh, okay, you're thinking of a superhero.
(Larry Wilmore and Rainn Wilson in The Office, 2005)
"'Sometimes I think the VC takes his economy drive a little too far,' says Philip, gingerly extracting the stencilled memorandum from its patched and disintegrating container. The document is dated 1st December, 1985. 'Oh dear,' says Philip, sinking into his swivel seat to read it. Pamela reads it with him, peering over his shoulder.
From: The Vice Chancellor To: Deans of all Faculties"'He does love acronyms, doesn't he,' Philip murmurs.
Subject: INDUSTRY YEAR SHADOW SCHEME.
As you are no doubt aware, 1986 has been designated Industry Year by the Government. The DES, through the UGC, have urged the CVCP to ensure that universities throughout the UK--
"'What?' says Pamela.
"'All these initials,' says Philip.
"'It's supposed to save paper and typing time,' says Pamela. 'We had a memo round about it. Acrowhatsits to be used whenever possible in University correspondence.'"
(David Lodge, Nice Work. Viking, 1988)