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How about making this page a comprehensive list of acronyms linkable from the first page?

No, defintion articles should be short (see the history of computer language for example). However, the link to the list of acronyms on a separate page is just fine. -dmh 14:11, 7 Sep 2004 (UTC)


Some of the translations (Interlingua "initiales", Portuguese "abreviatura", "inciial", and possibly "sigla") look like they are translations for "initials", "initialism" or "abbreviation", which are not synonyms for "acronym" in its standard sense. Could someone please check these. — Paul G 16:37, 7 Sep 2004 (UTC)

Definitions of Acronym[edit]

<Jun-Dai 18:31, 5 Jan 2005 (UTC)>

Defining acronym is extremely troublesome task. I've taken a stab at rewriting the definition already in place about five times now, and each time been less satisfied than I am with what is currently in place. Yet I think it needs improvement. Part of the problem is that the American Heritage def isn't very good either, indicating that this is not an easy word to write a correct, effective, easy-to-read, succinct definition for.

No. It's a very EASY task. i can do it in one sentence: An acronym is an abbreviation that is spoken as a word (NASA, radar) rather than spelled out (FBI, CIA).
Any other definition is nonsense. Definition 3 basically says an acronym is an abbreviation. If that's the case, get rid of the word. A difference without a distinction is pointless. People call all abbreviations acronyms because they are ignorant. If we allow definition 3 to exist as legitimate we're diluting the distinction and corrupting the language. Look at the work impact and how the media has fully corrupted it to mean effect. (unsigned comment by User:, 09:55, 4 August 2008)

Part of the problem is that acronym really represents a number of senses that overlap and are different only in a few specific ways. Another part of the problem is that there is a general definition of acronym, which consists of two senses, one "correct" and one "incorrect" as well as a technical or jargonistic definition of acronym.
"Strictly speaking, though, these are initialisms." is misleading, because the word initialism is still pretty much jargon--it is not in common parlance except amongst people that study language in some form or another. I don't know how old the word is (I suspect not very), but I don't think its use is a matter of strictness so much as a matter of people in a specific field requiring a more technical definition (like velocity in physics, which in normal English just means speed or rapidity of motion and has nothing to do with direction).
Also, neither sense currently defined would allow for established acronyms like XML, where the first letter is taken from the second (or other) position of the first word. Additionally, there is a problem with established acronyms that are read partly as individual letters and partly as words (a clear case: LDAP and a less clear case: AWOL, where it could be argued that the A is simply being emphasized and not named, contrary to common English pronunciation--though there is Ahab).
Lastly, there is no mention of problematic abbreviations that are read by some people as words and others as letters (SQL) or abbreviations that are read as though they had additional letters that aren't really there (FNME is read as Fannie Mae).
If we are to be in any way comprehensive, all of these should be included in the definition (and not in the usage notes--the usage notes should not be used to qualify definitions or add precision to them; they should only be used to indicate frequency of usage, connotation, offensiveness, regional considerations, etc.), or we risk having an incorrect definition. The problem is wording it so that it doesn't sound like a riddle in need of solving, and avoiding an overly lengthy definition.
Here is a list of "acronyms" or "initialism" to consider when defining (and categorizing) these terms, each presenting its own problems:
  • JPEG (mixed letter-word pronunciation)
  • SQL (disagreement about pronunciation)
  • FNME (pronounced as if there were other letters)
  • XML (non-initial letter used)
  • Xmas (mixed abbreviation with regular wording, where the abbreviation is from a different language)
  • Ped. X-ing (letter used as symbol)
  • PhD (non initial symbol, stands for a borrowed term, and is usually read in long form as "doctorate of philosophy")
  • BofA (mixed abbreviation with a regular, lower-cased word)
  • Patriot act (dual-purpose abbreviation and word, where the abbreviated sense is much less known).
Any thoughts?


I have attempted to neutralize the value judgment regarding "strictly speaking", etc., per the discussion on Wikipedia:Talk:acronym. However, the point about other types of abbreviations still needs to be addressed. Nohat 00:22, 1 August 2005 (UTC)

Initialism also overapplied[edit]

I've just added a comment to Talk:initialism that that term is overapplied just as people claim that "acronym" is over applied. An initialism is literally an item created from "initial" letters but is often applied to items created using also non-initial letters such as is the case with "TNT" which have gone so far as to use as an example in the initialism article. — Hippietrail 21:33, 18 August 2005 (UTC)

Acronym is not an Abbreviation[edit]

An acronym is a word formed from the joining of letters (ususally the first letter) of a multi-word term. WHO, for World Health Organization is an acronym, as who is a valid word.

SQL, for Structured Query Language, is an abbreviation, not an acronym, as sql is not a valid word.

Acronyms are therefore a subset of abbreviation. However it seems this is an antique attitude to correct English. Current common usage of acronym seems ignores the need for a valid word to be formed - and this Wiktionary entry (unfortunately) adds credence to this usage and the loss of distinction between acronym and abbreviation.

Paul M 16th Jan, 2006 (Australia)

Wiktionary is here to describe how people actually use words, not to set down rules about how words should and shouldn't be used. Note that the "Usage Notes" section acknowledges that conservative usage commentators (such as yourself) disapprove of this usage. Nohat 05:37, 23 January 2006 (UTC)
If anything goes, why bother?
Wiktionary is useless if all it does is document mistakes and pass them off as legitimate. Wiktionary SHOULD be the place where myths are debunked and put to rest. To do otherwise is the coddle the ignorant and lazy. (unsigned comment by User:, 09:55, 4 August 2008)
The point is to document how the language is used, not to dictate how it ought to be used. It is a fact that people use the word acronym as in sense 3, and if readers encounter the word acronym used that way and want to know what it means, we serve our readers by providing a definition that matches how the word is used. As I said before, the "Usage Notes" section acknowledges that conservative usage commentators (such as yourself) disapprove of this usage. Furthermore, there is a difference between acronyms and abbreviations, even if we accept sense 3: abbreviations, such as "etc.", "Mr.", "Thu." are abbreviations in written form only--when people read those abbreviations out loud they are pronounced the same as the expanded forms (i.e. "et cetera", "mister", "Thursday") whereas acronyms such as "IBM", "TNT", "NASA" are pronounced in a way which is distinct from the normal pronunciation of what those things stand for. Viz:
written form proununciation expansion
etc. et cetera et cetera
Mr. mister mister
Thurs. thursday Thursday
IBM I B M International Business Machines
TNT T N T Trinitrotoluene
NASA nasa National Aeronautics and Space Administration
What makes acronyms acronyms is not whether they are pronounced as words or letters, but whether their pronunciation is the same or different from their expansion. Nohat 00:34, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
Actually, those are initialisms. Acronyms are usually pronounced as if they were words in their own right. --EncycloPetey 00:38, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
All those are in fact described as "acronyms", as per sense 3 on this page, as well as sense 3 in Merriam-Webster. My point was that those who use sense 3 do not necessarily have no distinction between "acronym" and "abbreviation" as has been suggested elsewhere on this page. The distinction is the one I have explained here. Nohat 00:55, 26 August 2008 (UTC)

Translation problem[edit]

The Dutch translation says acroniem and letterwoord. Unfortunately the unclear status of what acronym really means (see above!) makes this translation rather iffy. The Dutch Language Union (taalunie) distinguishes:

  • letterwoord: radar, havo (are pronounced as a word)
  • initiaalwoord: pc, cao (are pronounced peesee and see-ah-oh)


Plural of an acronym[edit]

My understanding is that the proper plural of an acronym is the acronym itself. (Because the usual trailing 's' is abbreviated away, for eg "Three Letter Acronym"=TLA & "Three Letter Acronyms"=TLA). But I also observe that common usage is sometimes to add the trailing 's' anyway (eg TLAs) or - horror upon horror, with an extra apostrophe (eg TLA's). Is some or all of this worth adding under usage notes? Regards, BenAveling 10:14, 1 January 2009 (UTC)

Hard for us to gather facts about what happens as a general rule. Different regions or other language communities might have different practices and many acronyms are very specific to a small community. The "add-an-"s"-to-make-a-plural" is generally understood and practiced by many speakers and writers. It can even be useful to reduce ambiguity, IMO. Though I intensely dislike the apostrophe because it creates confusion with possessives and contractions, sometimes it helps resolve whether a given abbreviation ends in "s" as a singular or is a plural. DCDuring Holiday Greetings! 15:52, 1 January 2009 (UTC)