Re: <acronym? [was: www-html archives ]

Paul Prescod (
Wed, 30 Jul 1997 17:40:28 -0400

Message-ID: <>
Date: Wed, 30 Jul 1997 17:40:28 -0400
From: Paul Prescod <>
To: "Alan J. Flavell" <>
CC: Dan Connolly <>,
Subject: Re: <acronym? [was: www-html archives ]

Alan J. Flavell wrote:
> I would say that although there are some disagreements, the balance of
> opinion in the usenet discussion favoured the view that the term
> "acronym" definitely covers "words made up from initial letters", i.e
> that are pronounced.

Where I come from, IBM and CNE are both TLAs: "Three Letter Acronyms".
My dictionary (Oxford) says that acronyms are usually pronounced as
words, but my impression is that common usage has expanded the
definition to ignore that usually. Here's a "poor person's poll". Do a
search of Yahoo on "acronym" and a search on "initialism". Now look at
the content of the retrieved documents. People from the UK, Norway, and
North America all use the word "acronym" to refer to both types of

Peter Flynn says, in his "Acronmy and abbreviation server" (picked at
random, honest!):

"Definitions: Please note that so far as this database is concerned, an
acronym is any string of characters formed from the initial letters (or
occasionally from other letters) of several words, regardless of whether
the result is pronounceable or not. I am aware that this is different
from assumed US practice and that several dictionary definitions refer
to an acronym as a `word' which some people take to imply
pronounceability. I just think they're out of date :-) after all, FBI is
indisputably an acronym (Gk, `heads of names'; the abbreviation is
`Feds'), but it's just not pronounceable"
> Some people (myself not included) use the term more loosely, to
> encompass also combinations of initials that are not pronounced, but
> the balance of opinion seems to be that if a specific term is needed
> for those, they are "initialisms" (this term is not in very common
> use, however).

I'd never heard the word until this conversation. Everyone I know seems
to use acronym to cover both cases. I think <INITIAL> or <INITIALISM>
would cause more confusion than it would prevent.
> The term "abbreviation" could be understood to encompass all of these
> things and many more.

True enough!
 Paul Prescod