Definitions

bowdlerism

Acronym and initialism

Acronyms, initialisms, and alphabetisms are abbreviations that are formed using the initial components in a phrase or name. These components may be individual letters (as in CEO) or parts of words (as in Benelux or Delmarva). There is no universal agreement on the precise definition of the various terms (see Nomenclature), nor on written usage (see Orthographic styling). While popular in recent English, such abbreviations have historical use in English, as well as other languages. As a type of word formation process, acronym-initialisms are often viewed as a subtype of shortening processes (other shortening processes being clipping and backformation).

Nomenclature

Initialism originally described abbreviations formed from initials, without reference to pronunciation. The word acronym was coined in 1943 by Bell Laboratories for abbreviations pronounced as words, such as NATO, AIDS and Laser. Of the names, acronym is the most frequently used and known; it is widely used to describe any abbreviation formed from initial letters. Others differentiate between the two terms, restricting acronym to pronounceable words formed from components (letters, usually initial, or syllables) of the constituent words, and using initialism or alphabetism for abbreviations pronounced as the names of the individual letters. In the latter usage, examples of proper acronyms would be NATO scuba ([skuːbə], self-contained underwater breathing apparatus), and radar ([ˈreɪdɑr], radio detection and ranging), while examples of initialisms would include FBI ([ˌɛfˌbiːˈaɪ]) and HTML ([ˈeɪʧˌtiːˌɛmˌɛl]).

There is no agreement on what to call abbreviations whose pronunciation involves the combination of letter names and words, such as JPEG ([dʒeɪ.pɛg]) and MS-DOS ([ɛm.ɛs.dɔs]). These abbreviations are sometimes described as acronym–initialism hybrids, although most would group them under the broad meaning of acronym.

There is also some disagreement as to what to call abbreviations that some speakers pronounce as letters and others pronounce as a word. For example, the terms URL and IRA can be pronounced as individual letters: [ˈjuːˌɑrˌɛl] and ['ɑɪˌɑrˌeɪ] respectively; or as a single word: [ˈərl] and ['ɑɪˌrʌ] respectively. Such constructions, however—regardless of how they are pronounced—if formed from initials, may be identified as initialisms without controversy.

The term for the word-by-word reconstruction of an acronym or initialism is an expansion.

Comparing a few examples of each type

  • Pronounced as a word, containing only initial letters
    • laser: light amplification by the stimulated emission of radiation
    • NATO: North Atlantic Treaty Organization
    • scuba: self-contained underwater breathing apparatus
  • Pronounced as a word, containing non-initial letters
    • Amphetamine: Alpha-methyl-phenethylamine
    • Gestapo: Geheime Staatspolizei ("secret state police")
    • Interpol: International Criminal Police Organization
    • radar: radio detection and ranging
  • Pronounced as a word or names of letters, depending on speaker or context
    • FAQ: ([fæk] or ef a cue) frequently asked questions
    • IRA:
    • LED: light-emitting diode ([lɛd] or more frequently el ee dee)
    • SAT: ([sæt] or es a tee) (previously) Scholastic Achievement (or Aptitude) Test(s), now claimed not to stand for anything.
    • SQL: ([siːkwəl] or ess cue ell) Structured Query Language, also sometimes pronounced as sequel.
  • Pronounced as a combination of names of letters and a word
    • CD-ROM: (see-dee-[rɒm]) Compact Disc read-only memory
    • IUPAC: (i-u-[pæk]) International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry
    • JPEG: (jay-[pɛg]) Joint Photographic Experts Group
    • SFMOMA: (es-ef-[moʊmə]) San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • Pronounced only as the names of letters
    • BBC: British Broadcasting Corporation
    • CNN: Cable News Network
    • DNA: deoxyribonucleic acid
    • USA: United States of America
  • Pronounced as the names of letters but with a shortcut
  • Shortcut incorporated into name
    • 3M: (three em) originally Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company
    • : (e three) Electronic Entertainment Exposition
    • W3C: (double-u three cee) World Wide Web Consortium
  • Multi-layered acronyms
    • FRC: FIRST Robotics Competition, i.e., For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics Competition
    • GAIM: GTK+ AOL Instant Messenger, i.e. GIMP Tool Kit America OnLine Instant Messenger, i.e. GNU Image Manipulation Program Tool Kit America OnLine Instant Messenger, i.e. GNU's Not Unix Image Manipulation Program Tool Kit America OnLine Instant Messenger
    • GTK+: GIMP Tool Kit, i.e. GNU Image Manipulation Program Tool Kit, i.e. GNU's Not Unix Image Manipulation Program Tool Kit
    • JAXB: Java API for XML Binding, i.e. Java Application Programming Interface for eXtensible Markup Language Binding
    • VHDL: VHSIC Hardware Description Language, i.e., Very High Speed Integrated Circuits Hardware Description Language
  • Recursive acronyms, in which the abbreviation itself is the expansion of one initial
    • GNU: GNU's Not Unix!

      • HURD: HIRD of Unix-Replacing Daemons, where "HIRD" stands for "HURD of Interfaces Representing Depth"
      • PHP: PHP Hypertext Preprocessor
      • VISA: VISA International Service Association
      • XNA: XNA's Not Acronymed - a game development framework from Microsoft

      • Initialisms whose last word is a noun, but which are used as adjectives and the final noun stated separately (almost always redundantly)
        • ABS system (ABS from the German Antiblockiersystem): Anti-lock system system
        • ATM machine: Automated Teller Machine machine
        • DC Comics: Detective Comics comics
        • UPC code: Universal Product Code code
    • Self-referential acronyms
      • TLA: Three Letter Acronym, i.e. it is an example of what it means

      Historical and current use

      In the English language, the widespread use of acronyms and initialisms is a relatively new linguistic phenomenon, becoming increasingly evident since the mid-20th century. As literacy rates rose, and as advances in science and technology brought with them more complicated terms and concepts, the practice of abbreviating terms became increasingly convenient. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) records the first printed use of the word initialism as occurring in 1899, but it did not come into general use until 1965, well after acronym had become common.

      Around 1943, the term acronym was coined to recognize abbreviations and contractions of phrases pronounced as words. For example, the army offense of being Absent Without Official Leave was abbreviated to "A.W.O.L." in reports, but when pronounced 'awol' became an acronym. While initial letters are commonly used to form an acronym, the original definition was a word made from the initial letters or syllables of other words, for example UNIVAC from UNIVersal Automatic Computer. An early commercial example was Nabisco for the National Biscuit Company. The word acronym itself comes from Greek: ἄκρος, akros, "topmost, extreme" + ὄνομα, onoma, "name."

      Despite the recent emergence in English, earlier examples of acronyms in other languages exist. The early Christians in Rome used the image of a fish as a symbol for Jesus in part because of an acronym—fish in Greek is ΙΧΘΥΣ (ichthys), which was said to stand for Ἰησοῦς Χριστός Θεοῦ Υἱός Σωτήρ (Iesous CHristos THeou (h) Uios Soter: Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior). Evidence of this interpretation dates from the 2nd and 3rd centuries and is preserved in the catacombs of Rome. And for centuries, the Church has used the inscription INRI over the crucifix, which stands for the Latin Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum ("Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews").

      Initialisms were used in Rome dating back even earlier than the Christian era. For example, the official name for the Roman Empire, and the Republic before it, was abbreviated as SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus).

      Acronyms pronounced as words may be a 20th century phenomenon. Linguist David Wilton in Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends states that "forming words from acronyms is a distinctly twentieth- (and now twenty-first-) century phenomenon. There is only one known pre-twentieth-century word with an acronymic origin and it was in vogue for only a short time in 1886. The word is colinderies or colinda, an acronym for the Colonial and Indian Exposition held in London in that year.

      Early examples in English

      • A.M. (Latin ante meridiem, "before noon") and P.M. (Latin post meridiem, "after noon")
      • O.K., a term of disputed origin, dating back at least to the early 19th century, now used around the world
      • n.g., for "no good," from 1838
      • B.C. stands for Before Christ, and A.D. for Anno Domini, Latin for "In the year of our Lord"
      • The etymology of the word alphabet itself comes to Middle English from the Late Latin Alphabetum, which in turn derives from the Ancient Greek Alphabetos, from alpha and beta, the first two letters of the Greek alphabet. Colloquially, learning the alphabet is called learning one's ABCs.

      Current use

      Acronyms and initialisms are used most often to abbreviate names of organizations and long or frequently referenced terms. The armed forces and government agencies frequently employ initialisms (and occasionally, acronyms) (a well known English-language example being the "alphabet agencies" created by Franklin D. Roosevelt under the New Deal). Business and industry also are prolific coiners of acronyms and initialisms. The rapid advance of science and technology in recent centuries seems to be an underlying force driving the usage, as new inventions and concepts with multiword names create a demand for shorter, more manageable names. One representative example, from the U.S. Navy, is COMCRUDESPAC, which stands for Commander, Cruisers Destroyers Pacific; it's also seen as "ComCruDesPac".

      Jargon

      Acronyms and initialisms often occur in jargon. An initialism may have different meanings in different areas of industry, writing, and scholarship. This has led some to obfuscate the meaning either intentionally, to deter those without such domain-specific knowledge, or unintentionally, by creating an initialism that already existed. One example, now relatively obscure, is the verb "squeg", from "squeaking Megger", a term from World War II radar engineering.

      Acronyms as legendary etymology

      It is not uncommon for acronyms to be cited in a kind of false etymology called a folk etymology for a word. Such etymologies persist in popular culture but have no scholarly basis in historical linguistics, and are examples of language-related urban legends. For example, cop is commonly cited as being supposedly derived from "constable on patrol," posh from "port out, starboard home", and golf from "gentlemen only, ladies forbidden". Taboo words in particular commonly have such false etymologies: shit from "ship high in transit" and fuck from "for unlawful carnal knowledge."

      Orthographic styling

      Punctuation

      Showing the ellipsis of letters

      Traditionally, in English, abbreviations have been written with a full stop/period/point in place of the deleted part to show the ellipsis of letters, although the colon and apostrophe have also had this role. In the case of most acronyms and initialisms, each letter is an abbreviation of a separate word and, in theory, should get its own termination mark. Such punctuation is diminishing with the belief that the presence of all-capital letters is sufficient to indicate that the word is an abbreviation.
      Ellipsis-is-understood style
      Some influential style guides, such as that of the BBC, no longer require punctuation to show ellipsis; some even proscribe it. Larry Trask, American author of The Penguin Guide to Punctuation, states categorically that, in British English, "this tiresome and unnecessary practice is now obsolete", though some other sources are not so absolute in their pronouncements.
      Pronunciation-dependent style
      Nevertheless, some influential style guides, many of them American, still require periods in certain instances. For example, The New York Times’ guide recommends separating each segment with a period when the letters are pronounced individually, as in K.G.B., but not when pronounced as a word, as in NATO. The logic of this style is that the pronunciation is reflected graphically by the punctuation scheme.
      Other conventions
      When a multiple-letter abbreviation is formed from a single word, periods are generally proscribed, although they may be common in informal, personal usage. TV, for example, may stand for a single word (television or transvestite, for instance), and is generally spelled without punctuation (except in the plural). Although PS stands for the single word postscript (or the Latin postscriptum), it is often spelled with periods (P.S.). (Wikiquote abbreviates television as T.V.)

      The slash (a.k.a. virgule) (/) is often used to show the ellipsis of letters in the initialism N/A (not applicable, not available).

      Inconveniently-long words used frequently in related contexts can be represented according to their letter count. One notable example is "i18n", a short form of "internationalization", a term used in the computer field referring to adapting software for worldwide use. "Internationalization" is a 20-letter word; the "18", of course, represents the medial letters, as noted below. A related word is "localization", often seen as "l10n".

      Representing plurals and possessives

      The traditional style of pluralizing single letters with the addition of ’s (for example, Bs come after As) was extended to some of the earliest initialisms, which tended to be written with periods to indicate the omission of letters; some writers still pluralize initialisms in this way. Some style guides continue to require such apostrophes—perhaps partly to make it clear that the lower case s is only for pluralization and would not appear in the singular form of the word, for some acronyms and abbreviations do include lowercase letters.

      However, it has become common among many writers to inflect initialisms as ordinary words, using simple s, without an apostrophe, for the plural. In this case, compact discs becomes CDs. The logic here is that the apostrophe should be restricted to possessives: for example, the CD’s label (the label of the compact disc).

      Multiple options arise when initialisms are spelled with periods and are pluralized: for example, compact discs may become C.D.’s, C.D’s, C.D.s, or CDs. Possessive plurals that also include apostrophes for mere pluralization and periods may appear especially complex: for example, the C.D.’s’ labels (the labels of the compact discs). Some see this as yet another reason that the correct usage of apostrophes is only for possessives and not for plurals. In some instances, however, it is recognized that using an apostrophe can increase clarity, for example if the final letter of an acronym is an S, as in SOS's, or when writing the plural form of an abbreviation with periods (In The New York Times, the plural possessive of G.I., which the newspaper prints with periods in reference to United States Army soldiers, is G.I.’s, with no apostrophe after the s.)

      A particularly rich source of options arises when the plural of an initialism would normally be indicated in a word other than the final word if spelled out in full. A classic example is Member of Parliament, which in plural is Members of Parliament. It is possible then to abbreviate this as M’s P. (or similar ), as famously by a former Australian Prime Minister. This usage is less common than forms with "s" at the end, such as MPs, and may appear dated or pedantic.

      The argument that initialisms should have no different plural form (for example, "If D can stand for disc, it can also stand for discs") is generally disregarded because of the practicality in distinguishing singulars and plurals. This is not the case, however, when the abbreviation is understood to describe a plural noun already: for example, U.S. is short for United States, but not United State. In this case, the options for making a possessive form of an abbreviation that is already in its plural form without a final s may seem awkward: for example, U.S.’, U.S’, U.S.’s, etc. In such instances, possessive abbreviations are often foregone in favor of simple attributive usage (for example, the U.S. economy) or expanding the abbreviation to its full form and then making the possessive (for example, the United States' economy). On the other hand, in colloquial speech the pronunciation United States’s is sometimes used.

      Abbreviations that come from single, rather than multiple, words—such as TV (television)—are pluralized both with and without apostrophes, depending on the logic followed: that the apostrophe shows the omission of letters and makes the s clear as only a pluralizer (TV’s); or that the apostrophe should be reserved for the possessive (TVs).

      In some languages, the convention of doubling the letters in the initialism is used to indicate plural words: for example, the Spanish EE.UU., for Estados Unidos (United States). This convention is followed for a limited number of English abbreviations, such as pp. for pages (although this is actually derived from the Latin abbreviation for paginae).

      Acronyms that are now always rendered in the lower case are pluralized as regular English nouns: for example, lasers.

      When an initialism is part of a function in computing that is conventionally written in lower case, it is common to use an apostrophe to pluralize or otherwise conjugate the token. This practice results in sentences like "Be sure to remove extraneous .dll’s" (more than one .dll). However despite the pervasiveness of this practice, it is generally held to be technically incorrect; the preferred method being to simply append an s, without the apostrophe.

      In computer lingo, it is common to use the name of a computer program, format, or function, acronym or not, as a verb. In such verbification of abbreviations, there is confusion about how to conjugate: for example, if the verb IM (pronounced as separate letters) means to send (someone) an instant message, the past tense may be rendered IM’ed, IMed, IM’d, or IMd—and the third-person singular present indicative may be IM’s or IMs.

      Case

      All-caps style

      The most common capitalization scheme seen with acronyms and initialisms is all-uppercase (all-caps), except for those few that have linguistically taken on an identity as regular words, with the acronymous etymology of the words fading into the background of common knowledge, such as has occurred with the words scuba, laser, and radar.
      Small-caps variant
      Small caps are sometimes used in order to make the run of capital letters seem less jarring to the reader. For example, the style of some American publications, including the Atlantic Monthly and USA Today, is to use small caps for acronyms and initialisms longer than three letters; thus "U.S." and "FDR" in normal caps, but "" in small caps. The initialisms "" and "" are often smallcapped as well, as in: "From 4004 to 525."

      Pronunciation-dependent style

      On the copyediting end of the publishing industry, where the aforementioned distinction between acronyms (pronounced as a word) and initialisms (pronounced as a series of letters) is usually maintained, some publishers choose to use cap/lowercase (c/lc) styling for acronyms, reserving all-caps styling for initialisms. Thus Nato and Aids (c/lc), but USA and FBI (caps). For example, this is the style used in The Guardian, and BBC News typically edits to this style. The logic of this style is that the pronunciation is reflected graphically by the capitalization scheme.

      Some style manuals also base the letters' case on their number. The New York Times, for example, keeps NATO in all capitals (while several guides in the British press may render it Nato), but uses lower case in Unicef (from "United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund") because it is more than four letters, and to style it in caps might look ungainly (flirting with the appearance of "shouting capitals").

      Back-capitalization

      When initialisms are defined in print, especially in the case of industry-specific jargon, the initial letters of the full words are often capitalized, even when the expanded meaning is not a proper noun. This convention is pedagogically useful, because it quickly and efficiently draws the reader's attention to convey the idea "Notice that the acronym is derived from these letters", without circumlocuting to point out that fact. This is even more useful in cases where certain words contribute more than one letter to the acronym, which the letter-case differentiation can easily communicate. (For example, a writer can write, "MARC stands for MAchine Readable Cataloguing.")

      However, a problem lies in differentiating such pedagogical use from the usual purpose of "Title Case" capitalization, which is to mark a proper noun (for example, a brand name). Pedagogical temporary capitalization can inadvertently teach readers to think that the phrase is a proper noun, and to think that it should always be capitalized, which in cases such as storage area network is incorrect. This produces a drift toward spurious proper-noun status that can be called back-capitalization (by analogy to back-formation).

      One way to avoid this miscommunication born of ambiguity is to achieve the pedagogical effect with bold or italic formatting of the lowercase letters, rather than with back-capitalization. For example, instead of writing, "SAN stands for Storage Area Network," it is less ambiguous to write, "SAN stands for storage area network."

      Numerals and constituent words

      While typically abbreviations exclude the initials of short function words (such as "and", "or", "of", or "to"), they are sometimes included in acronyms to make them pronounceable.

      Numbers (both cardinal and ordinal) in names are often represented by digits rather than initial letters: as in 4GL (Fourth generation language) or G77 (Group of 77). Large numbers may use metric prefixes, as with Y2K for "Year 2000" (sometimes written Y2k, because the proper SI symbol for 1000 is k, not K---which stands for kelvin). Exceptions using initials for numbers include TLA (three-letter acronym/abbreviation) and GoF (Gang of Four). Abbreviations using numbers for other purposes include repetitions, such as W3C ("World Wide Web Consortium"); pronunciation, such as B2B ("business to business"); and numeronyms, such as i18n ("internationalization"; 18 represents the 18 letters between the initial i and the final n).

      Changes to (or word play on) the expanded meaning

      Pseudo-acronyms

      In some cases, an acronym or initialism has been redefined as a nonacronymous name, creating a pseudo-acronym. For example, the letters making up the name of the SAT (pronounced as letters) college entrance test no longer officially stand for anything. This trend has been common with many companies hoping to retain their brand recognition while simultaneously moving away from what they saw as an outdated image: American Telephone and Telegraph became AT&T (its parent/child, SBC, followed suit prior to its acquisition of AT&T and after its acquisition of a number of the other Baby Bells, changing from Southwestern Bell Corporation), Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC, British Petroleum became BP to emphasize that it was no longer only an oil company (captured by its motto "beyond petroleum"), Silicon Graphics, Incorporated became SGI to emphasize that it was no longer only a computer graphics company. DVD now has no official meaning: its advocates couldn't agree on whether the initials stood for "Digital Video Disc" or "Digital Versatile Disc," and now both terms are used.

      Pseudo-acronyms may have advantages in international markets: for example, some national affiliates of International Business Machines are legally incorporated as "IBM" (or, for example, "IBM Canada") to avoid translating the full name into local languages. Similarly, "UBS" is the name of the merged Union Bank of Switzerland and Swiss Bank Corporation.

      Recursive acronyms and RAS syndrome

      Rebranding can lead to redundant-acronym syndrome syndrome, as when Trustee Savings Bank became TSB Bank, or when Railway Express Agency became REA Express. A few high-tech companies have taken the redundant acronym to the extreme: for example, ISM Information Systems Management Corp. and SHL Systemhouse Ltd. Another common example is RAM memory, which is redundant because RAM (random-access memory) includes the initial of the word memory. PIN stands for personal identification number, obviating the second word in PIN number. Other examples include ATM machine (Automatic Teller Machine machine), EAB bank (European American Bank bank), HIV virus (Human Immunodeficiency Virus virus), Microsoft's NT Technology (New Technology Technology) and the formerly redundant SAT test (Scholastic Achievement/Aptitude/Assessment Test test, now simply SAT Reasoning Test).

      Simple redefining

      Sometimes, the initials continue to stand for an expanded meaning, but the original meaning is simply replaced. Some examples:

      • GAO changed the full form of its name from General Accounting Office to Government Accountability Office.
      • SADD changed the full form of its name from Students Against Driving Drunk to Students against Destructive Decisions.
      • The OCLC changed the full form of its name from Ohio College Library Center to Online Computer Library Center.
      • YM originally stood for Young Miss, and later Young & Modern, but now stands for simply Your Magazine.
      • WWF originally stood for World Wildlife Fund, but now stands for Worldwide Fund for Nature (although the former name is still used in the US)
      • RAID used to mean Redundant Array of Inexpensive Drives, but is now commonly interpreted as Redundant Array of Independent Drives.
      • DVD was originally an initialism of the unofficial term digital videodisk, but is now stated by the DVD Forum as standing for Digital Versatile Disc.

      Backronyms

      A backronym (or bacronym) is a phrase that is constructed "after the fact" from a previously existing word, initialism, or acronym. For example, critics of the Ford Motor Company might humorously refer to Ford as being an acronym for a phrase such as "fix or repair daily" whilst enthusiasts could use "first on race day".

      Most backronym formation occurs in the (linguistic) wild owing either to humor or to ignorance of an acronym's original meaning. The novelist and critic Anthony Burgess once proposed that the word "book" ought to stand for "Box Of Organised Knowledge. One artificial type of backronym formation is when an acronym's official meaning is crafted to retrofit an existing acronym whose original meaning sounded less "official". This process could be described as a species of bowdlerism. For instance, the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb (MOAB) recently developed in the United States is popularly called the "mother of all bombs" since it is (or recently was) the largest conventional bomb in the world; it is widely assumed that the "mother of all bombs" phrase was the original meaning of the MOAB acronym, being a snowclone of the earlier phrase "Mother of all Xs".

      Contrived acronyms

      A contrived acronym is an acronym that has been deliberately designed in such a way that it will be especially apt as a name for the thing being named (such as by having a dual meaning or by borrowing the positive connotations of an existing word). Some examples of contrived acronyms are USA PATRIOT, CAPTCHA, and ACT UP. The clothing company French Connection began referring to itself as FCUK, supposedly standing for "French Connection United Kingdom." They then created t-shirts and several advertising campaigns that exploit the acronym's similarity to the taboo word "fuck". Other companies have done the same thing with FUCT or FUKT (sounds like "fucked"). See the list of fictional espionage organizations for more examples of contrived acronyms.

      Some acronyms are chosen deliberately to avoid a name considered undesirable: for example, Verliebt in Berlin (ViB), a German telenovela, was first intended to be Alles nur aus Liebe (All for Love), but was changed to avoid the resultant acronym ANAL. Similarly, the Computer Literacy and Internet Technology qualification is known as CLaIT, rather than CLIT.

      In the history of the New York City subway system, Interborough Rapid Transit was abbreviated to IRT, and Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit became BMT. However, the Independent Subway System became IND, not ISS, likely because graffiti writers would habitually prepend a P to ISS.

      Sometimes even the name of something itself will be changed instead of just the acronym to avoid similar vandalism issues as with ISS, such as the change of the title of the video game Puck-Man (as in the UK) to Pac-Man due to concern that vandals might scratch out a portion of the letter P, changing it to an F and producing a common expletive.

      Contrived acronyms differ from backronyms in that they were originally conceived with the artificial expanded meaning, while backronyms' expansion is spurious — invented later as a joke, or as a guess at what the original expansion may have been.

      Non-English language

      Hebrew

      It's common to take more than just one initial letter from each of the words composing the acronym; regardless of this, the abbreviation sign is always written next to the last letter, even if by this it separates letters of the same original word. Examples: ארה"ב (for ארצות הברית, the United States); ברה"מ (for ברית המועצות, the Soviet Union); ראשל"צ (for ראשון לציון, Rishon LeZion); ביה"ס (for בית הספר, the school).

      Typography

      Hebrew typography uses a special punctuation mark called Gershayim (״) to denote acronyms, placing the sign between the second-last and last letters of the non-inflected form of the acronym (e.g. "Report", singular: "דו״ח"; plural: "דו״חות"); initialisms are denoted using the punctuation mark Geresh (׳) by placing the sign after the last letter of the initialism (e.g. "Ms.": "׳בג"). However, in practice, single and double quotes are often used instead of the special punctuation marks, with the single quote used both in acronyms and initialisms.

      If the acronym is read as is, then the spelling should be with a final form letter. If, on the other hand, the acronym is read as the complete phrase or read as the individual letters, then it should be spelled with a medial form letter. In practice, this rule is more often than not ignored, and the acronyms spelled either way.

      People

      Acronyms have been widely used in Hebrew since at least the Middle Ages. Several important rabbis are referred to with acronyms of their names. For example, Baal Shem Tov is called the Besht (Hebrew: בעש״ט), Rav Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides) is commonly known as Rambam (Hebrew: רמב״ם), Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak is known as Rashi, and Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman (Nahmanides) is likewise known as the Ramban (Hebrew: רמב״ן).

      Text

      The usage of Hebrew acronyms extends to liturgical groupings: the word Tanakh (Hebrew: תנ״ך) is an acronym for Torah (Five Books of Moses), Nevi'im (Book of Prophets), and Ketuvim (Hagiographa).

      Most often, though, one will find use of acronyms as acrostics, in both prayer, poetry (see Piyyut), and kabbalistic works. Because each Hebrew letter also has a numeric value, embedding an acrostic may give an additional layer of meaning to these works.

      One purpose of acrostics was as a mnemonic or a way for an author to weave his name as a signature, or some other spiritual thought, into his work, at a time when much was memorized. Examples of prayers which contain acrostics include:

      • Shokhen Ad - Lines are written so that letters line up vertically, spelling the name Yitzchak, which may refer to the patriarch Yitzchak, or to an unknown author.
      • Ashrei - The first letter of every verse starts with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet

      It is also a common part of Jewish thought to make inferences based on hidden acrostics. For example the Hebrew words for "man" (he: אישׁ) and "woman" (he: אשׁה) can be used to draw the inference that marriage, the joining of a man and a woman, is a spiritual relationship, because if one removes from each of the words "man" and "woman", one of the letters in the word "God" (he: י-ה), all that is left when "God" is removed from the joining of the two, is the word for destruction (he: אשׁ lit: fire) in place of each.

      So much can be interpreted from Hebrew, and attributed to or inferred from it, that an interpretational system, called exegesis, has been developed along these lines.

      Pronunciation

      In Hebrew, the abbreviations are commonly pronounced with the sound "a" inserted between the consonants: ש״ס Shas, תנ״ך Tanakh, שב״כ Shabak, רמב״ם Rambam. (An exception is אצ״ל Etzel.)

      When one of the letters is vav or yud, these may be read as vowels ("u" and "i") instead: דו״ח (duah = דין וחשבון, judgement and account); סכו״ם (sakum = סכין כף ומזלג, knife spoon and fork); תפו״ז (tapuz = תפוח זהב, golden apple); או״ם (um = האומות המאוחדות, the United Nations); ביל״ו Bilu; לח״י Lehi. (An exception is בית״ר Beitar.)

      Hebrew numbers (e.g. year numbers in the Hebrew calendar) are written the same way as acronyms, with gershayim before the last character, but pronounced as separate letter names: e.g. תשס״ח (Hebrew year 2007–2008) is tav-shin-samekh-khet.

      Declension

      In languages where nouns are declined, various methods are used. An example is Finnish, where a colon is used to separate inflection from the letters:

      • An acronym is pronounced as a word: Nato [nato] — Natoon [natoːn] "into Nato"
      • An initialism is pronounced as letters: EU — EU:hun "into EU"
      • An initialism is interpreted as words: EU — EU:iin "into EU"

      Lenition

      In languages such as Scottish Gaelic and Irish, where lenition (initial consonant mutation) is commonplace, acronyms must also be modified in situations where case and context dictate it. In the case of Scottish Gaelic, a lower case "h" is added after the initial consonant; for example, BBC Scotland in the genitive case would be written as BhBC Alba, with the acronym pronounced "VBC". Similarly, the Gaelic acronym for "television" (gd: telebhisean) is TBh, pronounced "TV", as in English.

      German

      Mid-20th century German showed a tendency toward acronym-contractions of the Gestapo (for Geheime Staatspolizei) type: other examples are Hiwi (for Hilfswilliger, non-German volunteer in the German Army); Vopo (for Volkspolizist, member of police force in the GDR); Mufuti or MuFuTi (Multifunktionstisch - multi functional table in the GDR). Mockingly, the people call this tendency AbKüFi (Abkürzfimmel – strange habit of abbreviating).

      Asian languages

      In English language discussion of languages with syllabic or logographic writing systems (such as Chinese, Japanese, and Korean), acronym describes short forms that take the first character of each multi-character element. For example, Beijing UniversityBeijing Daxue (literally, North-Capital Great-Learning 北京大学)—is widely known as Beida (literally, North-Great 北大). In describing such languages, the term initialism is inapplicable.

      There is also a widespread use of acronyms and initialisms in Indonesia in every aspect of social life. For example, the Golkar political party stands for Partai Golongan Karya, Monas stands for "Monumen Nasional" (National Monument), the Angkot public transport stands for "Angkutan Kota", warnet stands for "warung internet" or internet cafe, and many others.

      Extremes

      • The longest acronym, according to the 1965 edition of Acronyms, Initialisms and Abbreviations Dictionary, is ADCOMSUBORDCOMPHIBSPAC, a United States Navy term that stands for "Administrative Command, Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet Subordinate Command." Another term COMNAVSEACOMBATSYSENGSTA which stands for "Commander, Naval Sea Systems Combat Engineering Station" is longer but the word "Combat" is not shortened. This has led to many heated discussions on the midwatch regarding which is the longer acronym.
      • The world's longest initialism, according to the Guinness Book of World Records is NIIOMTPLABOPARMBETZHELBETRABSBOMONIMONKONOTDTEKHSTROMONT (Нииомтплабопармбетзелбетрабсбомонимонконотдтехстромонт). The 56-letter initialism (54 in Cyrillic) is from the Concise Dictionary of Soviet Terminology and means "The laboratory for shuttering, reinforcement, concrete and ferroconcrete operations for composite-monolithic and monolithic constructions of the Department of the Technology of Building-assembly operations of the Scientific Research Institute of the Organization for building mechanization and technical aid of the Academy of Building and Architecture of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics."

      See also

      References

      External links

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