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BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) is an example of an initialism.


An abbreviation that consists of the first letter or letters of words in a phrase. Unlike acronyms, initialisms are not spoken as words; they are spoken letter by letter.

See also:


From the Latin, "beginning"

Examples and Observations:

  • ABC (American Broadcasting Company, Australian Broadcasting Corporation), ATM (Automatic Teller Machine), BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), CNN (Cable News Network), DVD (Digital Versatile Disc), IBM (International Business Machines Corporation), NBC (National Broadcasting Company), PTA (Parent-Teacher Association)

  • Some names that began as initialisms have evolved into brands independent of their original meanings. For example, CBS, the American radio and television network, was created in 1928 as the Columbia Broadcasting System. In 1974, the name of the company was legally changed to CBS, Inc., and in the late 1990s it became CBS Corporation.

    Similarly, the letters in the names SAT and ACT no longer represent anything. Originally known as the Scholastic Achievement Test, the SAT became an Aptitude Test in 1941 and an Assessment Test in 1990. Finally, in 1994, the name was officially changed to SAT (or, in full, SAT Reasoning Test), with the letters signifying nothing. Two years later, American College Testing followed suit and changed the name of its test to ACT.

  • "CD-ROM is an interesting mix, because it brings together an initialism (CD) and an acronym (ROM). The first part is sounded letter by letter, the second part is a whole word."
    (David Crystal, The Story of English in 100 Words. St. Martin's Press, 2012)

  • "The first time an acronym or initialism appears in a written work, write the complete term, followed by an abbreviated form in parentheses. Thereafter, you may use the acronym or initialism alone."
    (G. J. Alred, C. T. Brusaw, and W. E. Oliu, Handbook of Technical Writing, 6th ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000)

  • "In AWOL--All Wrong Old Laddiebuck, an animated film by Charles Bowers, a woman presents her calling card to a soldier and it reads 'Miss Awol.' She then lures him away from camp without permission. The film is silent, of course, given the 1919 date, but the calling card indicates that AWOL is pronounced as a word, making it a true acronym and not just an initialism."
    (David Wilton and Ivan Brunetti, Word Myths. Oxford Univ. Press, 2004)
Pronunciation: i-NISH-i-liz-em
Also Known As: alphabetism

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