Acronym, initials, and initialism

bmo

Senior Member
Taiwan
I am still confused with the three, please help:

1. The following are acronym - WAC, AIDS, SARS, RADAR, SCUBA, AWOL. These are pronounceable.

2. JFK, LBJ are initials.

3. FBI, IBM, am (ante meridiem) are initialism.

Am I right?

Can we lump #3 into #2, also called initials, or must initials be person's names?

Thanks.
 
  • Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    I am still confused with the three, please help:

    1. The following are acronym - WAC, AIDS, SARS, RADAR, SCUBA, AWOL. These are pronounceable.

    2. JFK, LBJ are initials.

    3. FBI, IBM, am (ante meridiem) are initialism.

    Am I right?

    Can we lump #3 into #2, also called initials, or must initials be person's names?

    Thanks.
    FBI, IBM, etc. are simply initials. Initials need not necessarily be for a person's name.
     

    icecreamsoldier

    Senior Member
    New Zealand English
    Initials are the first letters of words that are used in place of the whole words.

    In linguistics an "initialism" is a set of initials that has come to be used as if it were a word in the language, but is said as the letters (as opposed to the acronyms mentioned above in 1.). FBI and IBM are good examples of this. In fact few people actually know what IBM stands for, but almost all recognise the reference anyway.

    The exception is people's names which are always defined as initials.
     

    baab

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    Here is the definition of "GPS" in Microsoft Computer Dictionary.

    Acronym for Global Positioning System. A radio navigation system developed by the U.S. Department of Defense that uses a constellation of 24 earth satellites, which are monitored by ground-based control stations, to provide precise, continuous worldwide positioning and timing information. GPS offers two services: a public Standard Positioning Service that provides positioning data accurate to within 100 meters horizontally and 156 meters vertically and time accurate to within 340 nanoseconds; and a Precise Positioning Service, principally for government and military use, with positioning data accurate to within 22 meters horizontally and 27.7 meters vertically and time accurate to within 100 nanoseconds.
    I am wondering if the word "acronym" was used correct here.

    Here is the definition of "acronym":
    acronym noun [C]

    a word formed from the first letters of several words:

    WAP is the acronym for Wireless Application Protocol.

    NOTE Acronyms are pronounced as single words. For example, the acronym BASIC is pronounced.


    According to the note, I think we should call GPS is initialism not acronym. Could you comment on that?
     

    roxcyn

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English [AmE]
    It's actually an abbreviation. I believe many English speakers use both acronym and abbreviation in the same case--even though some abbreviations are not pronounced as one word: HIV, GPS, UN, USA, etc.
     

    baab

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    Thanks. I have just consulted many dictionaries and they are inconsistent. In formal situations, what term should I use for that word? I think it is safe to use "abbreviation".
     

    roxcyn

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English [AmE]
    I would say "abbreviation". However as you saw from the dictionary entry, there are native speakers that would call GPS an "acronym".
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    baab, there are several previous threads about acronyms. Please search before posting ( Rule 1). I have merged this thread with one of them.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    The Microsoft Computer Dictionary's editor may know about computer terminology, but not about the English language. An acronym has to be pronounced as a word. GPS is not an acronym. If there are native English speakers other than the author of that dictionary entry who call it one, their ignorance of their own language is regrettable.
     

    baab

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    Thanks. I will note that.
    I have consulted the term "acronym" in many dictionaries and most of them don't say that "an acronym has to be pronounced as a word.". I am surprised about that.

    Here are definitions of that word in dictionaries:
    Concise English Dictionary
    a word formed from the initial letters of the several words in the name
    Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
    a word made up from the first letters of the name of something such as an organization. For example NATO is an acronym for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
    MacMillan English Dictionary - American
    an abbreviation consisting of letters that form a word. For example, NATO is an acronym for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
    And these dictionaries below give full information:
    Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary
    an abbreviation consisting of the first letters of each word in the name of something, pronounced as a word:
    AIDS is an acronym for 'Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome'.
    Oxford Business English Dictionary for learners of English
    a word formed from the first letters of several words:

    WAP is the acronym for Wireless Application Protocol.

    NOTE Acronyms are pronounced as single words. For example, the acronym BASIC is pronounced.
    Wikipedia English - Free Encyclopedia

    Acronyms and initialisms are abbreviations such as NATO, laser, or DNA, written as the initial letter or letters of words, and pronounced based on this abbreviated written form.Of the two words, acronym is the much more frequently used and known, and many dictionaries, speakers and writers refer to all abbreviations formed from initial letters as acronyms. However, some still differentiate between acronyms and initialisms: an acronym was originally a pronounceable word formed from the initial letter or letters of the constituent words, such as NATO /neɪtoʊ/ or RADAR /reɪdɑɹ/, from RAdio Detection And Ranging, while an initialism referred to an abbreviation pronounced as the names of the individual letters, such as TLA /ti.ɛl.eɪ/ or XHTML.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    All five dictionaries require an acronym to be a word:
    a word formed from
    a word made up from
    that form a word
    pronounced as a word
    a word formed from
    The only exception is the Wikipedia article that you quote, which presents no evidence for its claim
    many dictionaries [...] refer to all abbreviations formed from initial letters as acronyms
    From the evidence of the reputable dictionaries that you have referred to, the Wikipedia article is, simply, wrong. Wikipedia articles are not produced by the editors of dictionaries, who base their entries on considerable research.
     

    baab

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    All five dictionaries require an acronym to be a word:
    Yes, but they don't say that ""an acronym has to be pronounced as a word.".
    Did you mean that "a word" already implies that it is
    pronounceable?
     

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    I would say that terms such as laser, scuba, radar and sonar are "former acronyms" - they have gone from being acronyms to being actual words.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Yes, but they don't say that ""an acronym has to be pronounced as a word.".
    Did you mean that "a word" already implies that it is
    pronounceable?
    Think for a moment.

    Writing is a representation of the spoken word. Even cultures who have or had no written language, e.g. American Indians, use(d) words.

    If they could not say them, how could they use them? :idea:
     
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