Tag Archives: acronyms

What’s an Initialism?

Initialism is a word I had not seen nor heard before today’s blogpost at Grammarphobia.com, written by the brilliant and hilarious Patricia T. O’Conner, she of Woe Is I fame (among her many other linguistic accomplishments).

Her post was about using or omitting apostrophes in abbreviations. A reader asked Pat which plural was correct: PJs, PJ’s, pjs pj’s, P.J.’s. The answer is that you can find support for just about every variant, but the most commonly accepted seems to be plain old PJs. That is, unless your PJ’s pants (possessive) have a hole in the seat.

Did you know that PJs is an initialism? Neither did I. It means an abbreviation pronounced by saying each letter separately : PJs, USA, ATM, TV, RPMs, IRS, DOJ, UCLA, NYU, OMG, for example.

When you pronounce an abbreviation as a word, that is an acronym. (I’ve discussed this before in my blog.) An acronym is an abbreviation, but not all abbreviations are acronyms. Here are some acronyms: NASA, scuba (so common it’s lost its caps), radar (ditto), fubar (look it up), RAM, AWOL, POTUS, SCOTUS, FLOTUS.

This post is my holiday gift to you. What? You were expecting jewelry, candy, money? I’ll see what I can come up with, ASAP. Until then, enjoy the day.

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Abbreviations vs. Acronyms

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When people see an abbreviation, many refer to it as an acronym, thinking they mean the same thing. They don’t.

You all know what an abbreviation is.  An acronym is also an abbreviation—but one that is pronounced as a word:

NASA

Snafu ( it lost the caps when it became a common word)

Scuba (ditto)

Fubar (ditto)

MOMA in New York and LACMA in Los Angeles

You’d never say “Oosuh” or “Yoosuh,” so USA is not an acronym, just an abbreviation.

All acronyms are abbreviations, but not all abbreviations are acronyms.

(If you’re not sure what snafu and fubar stand for, look them up in your online dictionary; there you will discover the slightly off-color meanings.)

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I’ve Been AWOL

I haven’t posted in a while because I spent the last 10 days having a houseful of guests including our two precious grandchildren. We spent the time hitting some of the cultural highlights, including exhibits on Pompeii, Byzantium, dinosaurs, gems and minerals, and a stellar art exhibit at the LA County Museum, entitled “From Van Gogh to Kandinsky,” one I consider perhaps the best show LACMA has ever mounted.

Looking at what I titled this post and my mentioning of LACMA reminded me how often I hear people confuse abbreviations with acronyms. All acronyms are abbreviations, but not all abbreviations are acronyms. Acronyms are abbreviations pronounced like words: snafu. fubar, NASA, ASAP, laser, LSAT and GMAT, among others.

 

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Making Acronyms Plural

As I’ve mentioned before, an acronym is not a synonym for an abbreviation.  All acronyms are abbreviations, but not all abbreviations are acronyms.

NASA is an acronym—because we pronounce it as a word.

PIN is also an acronym. (Don’t say “PIN number.” That’s redundant.)

USA is not an acronym because we don’t pronounce it as a word; we say each letter.

To make acronyms plural, just add a lowercase s:  All vehicles have PINs. You don’t need an apostrophe before that s. We do write about the Oakland A’s, only because it would look like the word “As” if we didn’t.

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