Susanne Schulmeister susanne71_2000 at YAHOO.DE
Thu Jul 25 18:57:05 CDT 2002

 --- Richard Jensen <rjensen at> wrote:
> Dear Susanne,
> I hate to beat a dead horse, but your source is simply wrong.  Given
> that the "word" (and this is an operable term that has precise
> meaning in a linguistic context) acronym is, itself,
> American in origin, I believe the American dictionaries are correct.

> In fact, the original definition makes
> explicit reference to acronyms being derived from the "initial letter
> or letters" of the words in a phrase or sentence.
> Thus, "MASH" for a medical
> unit, "radar", "sonar", "snafu", etc. Given this broader definition,
> "taxacom" qualifies as an acronym, but FBI, MCZ, ASPT, SD, etc. are
> rightly defined as abbreviations.  An acronym is a special kind of
> abbreviation that has the property of being a pronounceable word.
> Dick

Hi Dick,

apparently there's two different opinions out there. In the old
encyclopedia brittanica in our library it says that an acronym is a
pronouncable word formed from the initial letters of several words.
The Brittanica Concise Encyclopedia of says:
"Shortened form of a written word or phrase used in place of the whole.
Abbreviations have proliferated in the 19th and 20th cent.; they are
employed to reduce the time required for writing or speaking,
especially when referring to the myriad new organizations, bureaucratic
entities, and technological products typical of industrial societies.
An abbreviation can now easily become a word, either an initialism in
which the letter names are pronounced individually (e.g., TV or FBI) or
an acronym in which the letters are combined into syllables (e.g.,
scuba, laser, or NAFTA)."

However, in the internet there are more sources that confirm what I
found on the website of the Acronym Database, for example the Pharma

What do Acronym and Abbreviation Mean?
A word formed from the initial letters of other words.
For example:
CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease)

A shortened form of a word or phrase.
For example:
Lab (laboratory)

Moreover, there are plenty of websites which use the word acronym for
unpronouncable abbreviations as well.

So, you may be right that the original meaning of the word acronym is
that it is a pronouncable abbreviation. But it seems that most people
now use it for any abbreviation in which the initial letters of words
are summarized in a single term, be it pronouncable or not.

The source of this may be that in the computer world, "word" is defined
simply as several letters between two spaces. Whether it is
pronounceable or not is irrelevant in this new definition.


> Susanne Schulmeister wrote:
> > Hi Dick,
> >
> > I don't know what you understand to be the "standard definition of
> what
> > a word is", but if you want to imply that an acronym must be
> > "pronouncable", you are wrong. I found this in the FAQs of the
> Acronym
> > database (
> >
> > ----------------------------
> > Q: What is an acronym?
> > A: It’s a special type of abbreviation, made up from the initial
> > letters of the words of a phrase, like FBI for Federal Bureau of
> > Investigation (the word acronym itself comes from the Greek for
> ‘head’
> > and ‘name’). Modern acronyms sometimes also use capitalised letters
> > from the middle of a word as well, like XML for eXtensible Markup
> > Language.
> >
> > Q: Don’t acronyms have to be pronounceable as words?
> > A: No, there is nothing about acronyms which means that, it’s a
> > mistaken idea perpetuated by some American dictionaries who should
> know
> > better. FBI is indisputably an acronym but it’s pronounced
> Eff-Bee-Eye.
> >
> > -------------------------------
> >
> > So, while M. Comp. Zool. is an abbreviation but not an acronym, MCZ
> is
> > both an abbreviation and an acronym of Museum of Comparative
> Zoology.
> >
> > Cheers,
> >
> > Susanne

New journal: ODE - Organisms, Diversity and Evolution
by the Gesellschaft für Biologische Systematik.

Susanne Schulmeister
Institute of Zoology and Anthropology
University of Göttingen, Germany


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