Stop Saying “Acronym” So Much

[vc_row inner_container=”true” padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”0px” border=”none”][vc_column width=”1/1″][custom_headline type=”left” level=”h1″ looks_like=”h1″ class=”entry-title”]Stop Saying Acronym So Much[/custom_headline][image type=”none” float=”none” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” src=”1597″ style=”width:100%;”][vc_row_inner no_margin=”true” padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”0px” border=”none”][vc_column_inner width=”5/6″][text_output]If you’re like most Americans, you use the word “acronym” to denote a collection of letters that stand for a specific series of words. Well, you’re right… some of the time. Truth is, the word you’re likely looking for is “abbreviation”.[/text_output][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][custom_headline type=”left” level=”h1″ looks_like=”h1″]What’s the difference?[/custom_headline][vc_row_inner no_margin=”true” padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”0px” border=”none”][vc_column_inner width=”5/6″][text_output]The difference is that the above definition – letters used to denote a series of words – is an abbreviation. An acronym is an abbreviation that is also pronounceable as a word. All acronyms are abbreviations. Not all abbreviations are acronyms.

For instance, NASA is an abbreviation that stands for the National Air and Space Administration. Since you can say it like a word, as it typically is, it’s also an acronym. FBI is an abbreviation that stands for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. However, FBI is not pronounceable as a word, unless you’re trying to sound like you have your tongue stapled to the roof of your mouth.[/text_output][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][custom_headline type=”left” level=”h2″ looks_like=”h2″]Where’s the dictionary, a-hole?![/custom_headline][text_output]If you’d like to get down to some brass tacks, from Merriam-Webster:[/text_output][vc_row_inner no_margin=”true” padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”0px” border=”none”][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][text_output]

Abbreviation – n. – a shortened form of a written word or phrase used in place of the whole.

[/text_output][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][text_output]

Acronym – n. – a word (as NATO, radar, or laser) formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive parts or major parts of a compound term; also : an abbreviation (as FBI) formed from initial letters: initialism.

[/text_output][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner no_margin=”true” padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”0px” border=”none”][vc_column_inner width=”5/6″][text_output]A few things here. An abbreviation is also a shortened word. For instance, in a recipe, “tsp.” is an abbreviation for “teaspoon”. Swell, but that’s not the part we’re interested in, because we’re splitting hairs with something else.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice the “also” definition of acronym. Good for you; give yourself a cookie. Now, I could have gotten a different definition that was more precise (or more convenient to my argument), but I purposely chose that one. You’ll notice that the second definition MW (my abbreviation for the learned source of the definition) writes that it’s just defined an Initialism, which is an abbreviation specifically formed from the first letters of a collection of words. It’s true that NASA is an initialism as well. So is FBI. Whoopteecrap.

My point is, if we have a term, called an initialism, which is already a very specific form of an abbreviation, then why also use acronym, which also already exists, and confuse it to mean two things? In other words, what’s the point of saying acronym is an abbreviation that is a word, and it’s an abbreviation that isn’t a word? While MW may have been nice enough to include a colloquial usage (and probably hedging their own bets), they’re not doing any favors. There are three words: one is an umbrella term; the others are specific versions. Let’s keep them distinct.

Also, since we’re getting all technical and uppity with MW, they also neglected the one commonality amongst their examples: NATO, radar, and laser are all pronounceable.[/text_output][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][custom_headline type=”left” level=”h2″ looks_like=”h2″]Have a Footnote[/custom_headline][vc_row_inner no_margin=”true” padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”0px” border=”none”][vc_column_inner width=”5/6″][text_output]Acronyms are typically commonly accepted as words. Sure, you can run around and refer to someone as a PAP (Philistine Anal Pore), but no one will know what the hell you’re talking about, which rather defeats the purpose. Everyone says NASA, because it’s a mouthful to say all the words in common parlance. By the same token, just because it can be said as a word, that doesn’t mean it’s recommended and subsequently done. I’m guessing everyone speaks each letter of AARP instead of pronouncing it as a word, lest they be mistaken for a stroke victim or a John Irving character.[/text_output][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][custom_headline type=”left” level=”h1″ looks_like=”h1″]Questions?[/custom_headline][vc_row_inner no_margin=”true” padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”0px” border=”none”][vc_column_inner width=”5/6″][text_output]So why does everyone say acronym, and if everyone does it, then isn’t that now an accepted synonym?

In reverse order:

  1. no, and
  2. because they’re mistaken (or stupid, if you want to get all judgy about it, not that you’d be wrong.)

At some point, I’ll elaborate on why people commonly use the wrong words, but the short answer is: it sounds more important. Business people and politicians (business people who are bad at business but good at talking a lot) like to inflate whatever position or angle they’re trying to sell. Acronym frankly sounds better. It has more bite. Abbreviation is too soft. Doesn’t sound important.

And please spare me the “if everyone does it” argument. I also have an article brewing about that thin justification, but in any case, it’s bullshit. Neither of these words are difficult to master. Abbreviation was very common in our lexicon not that long ago, and since we are aware of both of their existence commonly, we should know difference and use them both. If we’re trying to be economical and lose a word, we should actually lose acronym, because abbreviation already covers it.[/text_output][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][custom_headline type=”left” level=”h1″ looks_like=”h1″]Let’s Make This Simple[/custom_headline][vc_row_inner no_margin=”true” padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”0px” border=”none”][vc_column_inner width=”5/6″][text_output]Abbreviation – shortened term or letters that stands for something.

Acronym – abbreviation you can say as a word.[/text_output][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Leave a Reply