All about acronyms

If someone asked you to give them an acronym, what would you say?


And if the person you were talking to was a stickler for accuracy, then they’d say you were wrong. You see, acronyms are (technically) made of a string of initial letters (and sometimes other letters) that are pronounced as a word.

So for you Aussies that includes: ANZAC, QANTAS and TAFE. Others include AIDS, NATO, PAWS, Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei (secret state police)) and scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus).

In Australia, acronyms are usually written with all capitals and omit full stops. In the US and UK, however, full stops between the letters is still quite common. Personally, I tend towards a cleaner style with fewer punctuation marks.

So what are those other ones called? CIA or TV or SBS? Well, they’re  initialisms, which are (as you’ve probably guessed) strings of initial letters (and sometimes other letters) not pronounced as a word. They are also written in capitals and don’t have full stops. Of course, I doubt anyone’s going to get seriously put-out if you dare call one of these shortened forms an acronym.

Did you also know there’s another from of acronym that’s called a bacronym? It’s a phrase formed specifically so it makes an acronym (backwards acronym). Some examples:

  • SAVES – Small Animal Veterinary Emergency Service
  • WIRES – Wildlife Information and Rescue Emergency Services
  • COLBERT – Combined Operational Load-Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (named specifically after Stephen Colbert)
  • USA PATRIOT (Act) – Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism

Bacronyms sound like a lot of hard work (or the effects of a marketing department locked in a room with too much coffee) but maybe they’re effective. Or are they a bit like a ‘dad joke’?

The idea post came from a suggestion from a friend. If you have any suggestions for future posts, please post a comment below.

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