How to distinguish between "acronym" and "abbreviation"

kazuhiko fudaba

Senior Member
Japanese
Acronyms such as UNESCO and INPE are pronounced "juneskou" and "inpe" like as new words,
but abbreviations such as WHO and USA are pronounced like "dablja-eiti-ou" and "ju:-es-ei".

How can I distinguish between acronyms and abbreviations?
I understand acronyms are included in abbreviations.

Thank you in advance.
Kazu Fudaba
 
  • PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    Acronyms are typically formed by using the first letter of each word in a phrase to form a new word.
    Abbreviations are a shortened form of a word or phrase: can't < cannot; etc. < et cetera, specs < spectacles; gal. < gallon. Usually there is an apostrophe in the word or a full stop at the end to indicate the missing letter(s).
    Initialisms are abbreviation consisting of initial letters pronounced separately: BBC, USA; TV.

    There is no reliable way of distinguishing acronyms and pronounceable intitialisms.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    You cannot, and different people may pronounce the same abbreviation differently; I have certainly heard WHO pronounced "hoo" /huː/ in Britain.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    You cannot, and different people may pronounce the same abbreviation differently; I have certainly heard WHO pronounced "hoo" /huː/ in Britain.
    I've used both Who and double-u-aitch-oh. On reflection, it may be that I typically used who for an adjectival use and the spelt out version for the noun.
    Also a search yields this thread :) acronym / abbreviation [how to distinguish]
     
    Last edited:

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Some words started out as acronyms and morphed into words. A couple of notable examples are radar (radio detection and ranging) and scuba (self contained underwater breathing apparatus).

    I have my doubts that "radar" is a true acronym as it uses "Ra" form "radio" instead of the initial. I don't know if there is a term for that or not.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Some words started out as acronyms and morphed into words. A couple of notable examples are radar (radio detection and ranging) and scuba (self contained underwater breathing apparatus).

    I have my doubts that "radar" is a true acronym as it uses "Ra" form "radio" instead of the initial. I don't know if there is a term for that or not.
    In the thread I linked to just above, the definition has accommodation for "groups" of letters to participate in acronyms :D
    ac•ro•nym (akrə nim), n. a word formed from the initial letters or groups of letters of words in a set phrase or series of words,
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Another interesting point is that "NY", "NJ", "CT", "FL" etc. are not abbreviations. They are "Postal symbols" in the USA. The corresponding abbreviations would be: N.Y., N.J., Ct. or Conn., Fla.

    If you look on the Internet, however they list the postal symbols as abbreviations and call the original abbreviations "wrong".

    The two letter postal symbols were created to make automatic scanning of letters feasible. I guess it was inevitable that they would end up being the "abbreviations".
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Abbreviation is a broad category and contains initialisms, acronyms, contractions and other things like Mr Mrs wasn't etc regardless of whether they have periods/full stops or not. To say NY is not an abbreviation is ludicrous, in my opinon. It may also be a sub-category of "symbol" within the category of abbreviation, however :)

    ab•bre•vi•a•tion /əˌbriviˈeɪʃən/ n.
    1. [countable]a shortened form of a word or phrase used to represent the whole
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Abbreviation is a broad category and contains initialisms, acronyms, contractions and other things like Mr Mrs wasn't etc regardless of whether they have periods/full stops or not. To say NY is not an abbreviation is ludicrous, in my opinon. It may also be a sub-category of "symbol" within the category of abbreviation, however :)

    When they first came out with the Postal symbols (I only remember the two letter symbols) they made a clear point that they were postal symbols. I was taught to use the two letter symbols for envelopes only. Elsewhere I was to use abbreviations.

    So I might write in a letter that I visited Watertown, Conn. and not Watertown, N.Y. or Watertown, Mich., but the envelope would read Watertown CT (no comma), Watertown NY (no comma) and Watertown MI (no comma).

    The Post Office also referred to these as "symbols".

    They have changed their tune. They are now calling them "abbreviations", but still no commas (which would be required for real abbreviations). https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/state-abbreviations.pdf

    State Abbreviations

    On July 1, 1963, the Post Office Department introduced the five-digit ZIP Code. At the time, most addressing equipment could accommodate only 23characters (including spaces) in the bottom line of theaddress. To make room for the ZIP Code, state names needed to be abbreviated. The Department provided an initial list of abbreviations in June 1963, but many had three or four letters, which was still too long.
     

    jmichaelm

    Senior Member
    English - US
    When they first came out with the Postal symbols (I only remember the two letter symbols) they made a clear point that they were postal symbols. I was taught to use the two letter symbols for envelopes only. Elsewhere I was to use abbreviations.
    That would be the work of middle school English teachers protecting the sanctity of the language from federal meddling. ;)
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    They are abbreviations that serve as postal codes. Not all state abbreviations are postal codes.

    Colorado
    CO - postal code
    Colo. - not a postal code

    Minnesota
    MN - postal code
    Minn. - not a postal code

    Florida
    FL - postal code
    Fla. - not a postal code
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    They are abbreviations that serve as postal codes. Not all state abbreviations are postal codes.

    Colorado
    CO - postal code
    Colo. - not a postal code

    Minnesota
    MN - postal code
    Minn. - not a postal code

    Florida
    FL - postal code
    Fla. - not a postal code
    And postal codes forbid the comma between the city and the code, and abbreviations require the comma between city and abbreviation.

    But the Post Office no longer seems to be calling these "Postal Codes" or "Postal Symbols" . The link I provided (Post #13) was from the US Postal Service and they are calling it "abbreviations". I think that is sloppy language, but it appears "official".
     
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