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  • Difference Between Abbreviation and Acronym

    acronym vs abbreviation

    An acronym is an abbreviation but the reverse is not true. Confusing? Never mind. Both are abbreviations but an added feature of acronym is that it can be read like a word. Read the rest of the post to know the Difference Between Abbreviation and Acronym

    Definition of Abbreviation

    An abbreviation (from Latin breves, meaning short) is a shortened form of a word or phrase. Usually, but not always, it consists of a letter or group of letters taken from the word or phrase. For example, the word abbreviation can itself be represented by the abbreviation abbr., abbrv. or abbrev. But then these are contractions, not abbreviations. Like govt (for government), exam (for examination), dept (for department) are all contractions, and not abbreviations, strictly speaking.

    So in strict analysis, abbreviations should not be confused with contractions or acronyms (including initial-isms), with which they share some semantic and phonetic functions, though all three are connoted by the term abbreviation in loose parlance.

    An abbreviation is a shortening by any method; a contraction is a reduction of size by the drawing together of the parts. A contraction of a word is made by omitting certain letters or syllables and bringing together the first and last letters or elements; an abbreviation may be made either by omitting certain portions from the interior or by cutting off a part; a contraction is an abbreviation, but an abbreviation is not necessarily a contraction. However, normally acronyms are regarded as a subgroup of abbreviations (e.g. by the Council of Science Editors).
    An abbreviation may mean something else in different context, time or clime.
    Eg: MP means Member of Parliament, but it can also mean, Melting Point, Mark Price, Madhya Pradesh.

    Abbreviations can also be used to give a different context to the world itself, such as (PIN (Postal Index Number, wherein if the abbreviation were removed the context would be invalid)
    Acronyms are often referred to with only the first letter of the abbreviation capitalized. For instance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization can be abbreviated as “Nato” or “NATO”, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome as “Sars” or “SARS” (compare with “laser” which has made the full transition to an English word and is rarely capitalized at all).
    Initialisms are always written in capitals; for example the ‘British Broadcasting Corporation’ is abbreviated to BBC, never Bbc. An initialism is similar to acronym but is not pronounced as a word.
    When abbreviating scientific units, no space is added between the number and unit (100mph, 100m, 10cm, 10°C). (This is contrary to the SI standard,.)

    A syllabic abbreviation is an abbreviation formed from (usually) initial syllables of several words, such as Interpol = International + police. It is basically a variant of the acronym.

    Syllabic abbreviations are usually written using lower case, sometimes starting with a capital letter, and are always pronounced as words rather than letter by letter.

    Syllabic abbreviations should be distinguished from portmanteaus. The latter are words formed by two words. Accenture (Accent + Future), or Hinglish (Hindi + English).

    Definition of Acronym


    Acronym is word or name that is formed by joining the first letters (or the first few letters) of a series of words. An acronym is pronounceable, whereas abbreviations are not.

    Acronyms are often less clumsy than the complete expressions they represent and are easier to write and remember.

    So now you know that an acronym is a word formed by using the initials of a phrase or a groups of words. For eg, DOS is the acronym for Disk Operating System; AWARE (American Workfore And Research & Education).
    It can be deemed a type of abbreviation. Well, if an abbreviation sounds like a word rather than pronouncing its letters distinctly, it is an acronym. Commonly most people do not distinguish between acronyms and abbreviations, more so when the abbreviation is better known. Indeed,people do not know PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride or that ATM is automated teller machine. Ask what is MMTS train. They may not know it is Multi-Modal Transit System.

    Acronyms often are capitalized, as in the Spanish CURT (for centro urbano de rehabilitación de toxicómanos, or a drug rehab center). Often, acronyms form a word whose original meaning is nearly forgotten, For eg, laser” (láser in Spanish), which comes from “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation)”

    English acronyms include AWOL (absent without leave), RAM (random-access memory) and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

    A word typically made up of the first letters of two or more words; for example, BASIC stands for Beginners All purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. Letters within a word are also used; for example, XML means eXtensible Markup Language.

    Technically, if only first letters are used, it is an Initialism. An excellent acronym resource: www.acronymfinder.com. See backronym.

    History of Acronyms

    Acronyms originated in 1943 Of course, they were in vogue earlier, too. But technical jingo boosted acronym usage As wartime output of names using initials reached a peak, the necessity drove our experts to give a name to the growing arsenal of alphabetic abbreviations. That need was met in a note in the February 1943 issue of American Notes and Queries: “Your correspondent who asks about words made up of the initial letters or syllables of other words may be interested in knowing that I have seen such words called by the name acronym, which is useful, and clear to anyone who knows a little Greek.”

    Greek? Yes, acronym follows the model of other designations for types of words, like synonym, antonym, and homonym. The -nym means ‘a kind of word’; acro- means ‘top, peak, or initial’, as in acrobat or acrophobia. Sometimes scholars distinguish between initialisms, which are simply a series of letters pronounced one after the other, like USA (1795 as United States of America, 1848 as “U.S. Army”), GOP (Grand Old Party, 1883), IQ (1916), and GI (1917), and hard-core acronyms, which are initials pronounced as a separate word, like WAC (a member of the Women’s Army Corps (1943): Snafu (situation normal all fouled up 1944); and radar (radio detection and ranging 1941). In general use, however, these are all called acronyms.
    And what were the acronyms so busily produced during World War II? Initialisms ranged from PX (post exchange, 1941) to V.D. (venereal disease, 1942) and included the names of numerous agencies such as OPA (Office of Price Administration), OSS (Office of Strategic Services, predecessor of the present CIA or Central Intelligence Agency), and WPB (War Production Board). Acronyms pronounced as words included CARE (Cooperative for American Relief in Europe, 1945) at war’s end, and after the war NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 1949). Soon after the establishment of the U.N. (United Nations fighting the Axis, 1942) a plethora of acronyms, some of the quite long, blossomed. Two of the longer ones are UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, 1945) and UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, 1943). Yes, Unctad and Unicef are know written as words with the initial U being written as a capital letter.

    Posted under: Terms
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    3 Comments

    1. Lisa says:

      Good article, except for typos and lack of punctuation. Specifically, the section on the history of acronyms has lots of errors (“know” for “now” etc.). Please fix & edit!

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