An acronym (pronounced AK-ruh-nihm) is a word formed from the initial letters of other words and can be pronounced as a word. For example, the acronym laser is much easier to say than its components - light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. The same goes for radar (radio detection and ranging) or Nasa (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), Ielts and Toefl.
Technically, only abbreviations that consist of a minimum of four words and are usually pronounced and written as a word (i.e., not written in all capitals) qualify as an acronym. Therefore, most would agree that SMS (short message service), ATM (Automated Teller Machine), BBC, DVD (digital versatile disc), TOT (Telephone Organisation of Thailand), or FBI would qualify as initialisms but not acronyms.
Initialisms are abbreviations consisting of initial letters that are pronounced as individual letters of the alphabet: USA.
The modern trend is to write acronyms in small letters: scuba (not SCUBA), which represents self-contained underwater breathing apparatus. Acronyms that represent proper nouns may be written with an initial capital letter: Asean.
The above explains why HIV/Aids (human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is written and pronounced the way it is: the first half acts as an initialism, while the second half is an acronym. Got it?
Activity: Fun homework with mom and dad: Why is Cobol an anacronym? Why are backronyms considered to be backwards? What makes visa an apronym or a recursive acronym? Surprise your grammar teacher tomorrow with these answers. Send me a note and let me know what happened.
The mother of all acronyms: USA Patriot Act - Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. Neat, huh?
Heather Vlach is an English language specialist and Intensive Studies educator at International School Bangkok in Nonthaburi. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .
About the author
- Writer: Heather Vlach