Dictionary.com

Acronym or Abbreviation

acronym, chalkboard

Is there a difference between acronyms and abbreviations? Yes. An abbreviation is any shortened or contracted form of a word or phrase. An acronym is a specific type of abbreviation formed from the first letters of a multi-word term, name, or phrase, with those letters pronounced together as one term. OPEC—or the O(rganization of) P(etroleum) E(xporting) C(ountries)—is an acronym because we pronounce it as one word, oh-pek. This is distinct from an initialism, which is another form of abbreviation in which each letter is pronounced separately, like FBI. To complicate the issue, there are hybrid forms—part initialism, part acronym—like CD-ROM and JPEG—for which one term is as good as the other.

These terms have strangely diverse histories. Abbreviation is a relatively old word and has been used since the 1400s. It is the noun form of the word abbreviate from the Late Latin abbreviātus meaning “shortened.” Initialism arose at the end of the 1800s, combining initial with the suffix -ism, which forms nouns from verbs like baptism. Acronym is relatively new. Some claim it was first used in 1943 by scientists at Bell Laboratories from a blending of acro- meaning “tip” (like acropolis) and -nym meaning “word” (like synonym). Though there is also a record of the word being used as early as 1940 from the German term akronym.

Today abbreviations—both initialisms and acronyms—are commonly used in text messages and online writing (from informal social media to high-quality web journalism). Though LOL and OMG are the poster children of textspeak, dozens of other useful abbreviations have recently arisen that are both efficient and expressive. TLDR, an initialism standing for “too long; didn’t read,” is now a common tag for media posts, a subreddit, and the name for a WNYC podcast.

What are some acronyms and initialisms you’ve heard lately?

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94 Comments

  1. Donna Graham-Elliott -  August 3, 2016 - 5:29 am

    Oops! In the second paragraph of the explanation, the relative clause is out of place. It begins with the word “that” which should be directly beside the word “abbreviations”…

    Reply
  2. cheng -  July 13, 2016 - 3:02 am

    Thanks a lot for these! I’ve really learned new words and abbreviations that was hard and sounded ridiculous to me. Like LOL, FLK, GTG, ROFLOL, TLDR etc. even how look familliar they are.
    But guys, I have one initialism here that made me eager to know its words “ATM”. Please help me guys, thanks! :-)

    Reply
    • extremist343 -  July 19, 2016 - 2:13 pm

      ATM = Automatic Teller Machine.

      Reply
    • Paul -  July 21, 2016 - 8:16 am

      ATM is often the victim of RAS Syndrome (Redundant Acronym Syndrome Syndrome–yes, Syndrome is there twice on purpose) when people say “ATM machine”. Although in this case, the A should be an I for Initialism.

      Reply
    • Mara -  August 4, 2016 - 10:03 pm

      For the internet slang, ATM = at the moment.

      Reply
  3. haysus -  June 3, 2016 - 1:09 pm

    TBDBITL

    Reply
  4. wah130 -  May 5, 2016 - 6:18 am

    BLOFA – I made this up after a comment made by my step-daughter

    I use this acronym when describing someone with low BLOFA – like someone in the supermarket line who can’t understand why an expired coupon won’t scan.

    BLOFA – Basic Level of Functionality and Awareness

    Reply
  5. Uncle Bob -  April 21, 2016 - 8:55 pm

    ATHYRIO – And The Horse You Rode In On!

    Reply
  6. larry -  April 15, 2016 - 3:03 pm

    and i always thought it was-A Contrived Reduction Of Nomenclature Yielding Mnemonics ACRONYM

    Reply
    • Y -  April 20, 2016 - 4:21 pm

      Hvvyghvgujjfffg!

      Reply
    • comment -  April 20, 2016 - 5:33 pm

      comment off me so their is a lot of tabs in comments

      Reply
      • salesmansanta -  April 26, 2016 - 8:52 am

        sup

        Reply
    • Cal -  April 24, 2016 - 9:54 pm

      And that would be a perfect example of a backronym

      Reply
  7. Bada-BOOM -  April 14, 2016 - 3:59 pm

    Babe is an abbreviation for baby.

    Blow you mind yet?

    Jk (acronym for Just Kidding)

    I know I didn’t

    Reply
    • kkk -  April 20, 2016 - 5:32 pm

      k – ok

      Reply
  8. kyle04ski -  April 13, 2016 - 3:03 pm

    ILYSMIFLIGE Good luck pronouncing…

    stands for ‘I Love You So Much (I or I’m) (Feel or Feeling) Like I’m Gonna Explode! ………… THANKS MARKIPLIER

    P.S.
    This is actually an initialism

    Reply
    • chris -  April 17, 2016 - 8:14 pm

      thanks.thanks. Im going 2 use it when i see my very cute Malaysian pharmacist tomorrow,Ive told her once 2mnths ago & she is very intelligent so i would expect her 2 find out what it means !! Cheers

      Reply
  9. Wayne -  April 12, 2016 - 9:08 am

    US ARMY: Uncle Sam Ain’t Released Me Yet
    US ARMY Backwards: Your Momma Really Ain’t So Ugly
    ARMY if you ask a Marine: Ain’t Ready to be a Marine Yet
    MARINE: Muscles Are Required, Intelligence Not Essential
    NAVY: Need Any Vaseline Yet?

    Reply
    • DragonZ -  April 14, 2016 - 1:49 pm

      Wow. That’s interesting.

      Reply
    • Sudeshna -  April 15, 2016 - 9:47 am

      Absolutely hilarious!
      How do you these ‘alternative’ extensions?
      :))

      Reply
    • newton -  April 16, 2016 - 2:26 pm

      Never would have guessed it.

      Reply
    • Keith Anker -  April 20, 2016 - 10:21 pm

      Wow! Some Military Intelligence, for a change. (You know, “I did not know that there was any.”)

      Reply
    • Terrell reavis -  May 4, 2016 - 10:54 pm

      Lmbo, laughing my butt off

      Reply
  10. Super Comet -  April 10, 2016 - 5:59 am

    Scuba:

    Self
    Contained
    Underwater
    Breathing
    Apparatus

    Reply
    • kk -  April 11, 2016 - 9:46 am

      wow

      Reply
  11. Malik -  April 10, 2016 - 2:20 am

    tc = take care

    Reply
  12. Phoenix -  April 7, 2016 - 9:18 pm

    CSR = customer service representative.

    Reply
    • Romek -  April 12, 2016 - 4:04 pm

      I dare to disagree …

      CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility for 100%

      Reply
  13. no one you need to know -  April 7, 2016 - 11:48 am

    im surprised anyone still cares about this stuff.

    Reply
    • secret -  April 9, 2016 - 7:34 am

      I go with capital

      Reply
  14. Andy -  April 6, 2016 - 6:26 am

    Best friends forever BFF
    Oh snap OS
    Pemdas () exponents multiply divide add subtract
    ROFLOL Rolling on floor laughing out loud

    Reply
    • Phoenix -  April 7, 2016 - 9:41 pm

      ROLFMAO = Rolling On Floor Laughing My Arse Off.

      Reply
      • Grinder -  April 8, 2016 - 5:28 pm

        Rolling on Laughing Floor…???

        Reply
      • abbykimchi -  April 11, 2016 - 2:05 pm

        my arse???????????

        Reply
        • Yes -  April 14, 2016 - 3:58 pm

          Arse is European way of saying donkey… y’know… @$$

          Reply
    • Wim -  April 8, 2016 - 12:42 am

      Parenthesis, exponents, …

      Reply
    • YOUR CAT :) -  April 9, 2016 - 11:22 am

      BRB= be bright back
      GTG= got to go
      I play a lot of video games with chat. Plus, my text- savy friend (no offense to her ;) ) knows a lot. these are just TWO! THERE R SO MANY lol (Ha! Thats an acronym!)

      Reply
  15. Cosmic Carrie -  April 5, 2016 - 3:32 pm

    Lol, better do it!

    Reply
    • fawaz -  April 11, 2016 - 8:46 am

      tbh: to be honest
      nvm: nevermibd

      Reply
  16. thairan mathew -  September 1, 2015 - 5:49 am

    Its nice to learn new words and their meanings this way. This is of great help when I teach English for my class of engineering college students.

    Keep up the good work

    Reply
  17. Harry -  August 5, 2015 - 1:58 pm

    TLDR

    Reply
    • pallab -  September 22, 2015 - 10:36 pm

      LOL

      Reply
    • Jimbo Jr. -  April 4, 2016 - 1:54 pm

      article too long; went to texting talk; TLDR

      Reply
  18. Kayo -  August 1, 2015 - 11:26 pm

    Interesting article, although for non-native speakers of English it would have been useful to provide examples of some abbreviations. While I’ve always known the difference between “abbreviation” and “acronym”, the term “initialism” is new to me (and to my browser’s dictionary as well – it insists on changing the word to “initials” every time I type it, so I am now adding it as a new word).

    Also of interest, when I clicked on the above link to “initialism”, the second definition in this very dictionary lists “NATO” as an initialism and it shows “acronym” as a synonym. So does that mean that acronyms are simply a subset of initialisms?

    Reply
    • Nano -  April 6, 2016 - 12:11 pm

      If you’re going by the article then NATO (pronounced “nay-tow”) is an acronym, not an initialism, because it is pronounced as a word. In an initialism each letter is spoken FBI is pronounced “F-B-I”.

      Both acronyms and initialisms are subsets of abbreviations.

      Reply
      • John -  April 10, 2016 - 8:09 am

        Then there’s the hybrid variety, which are both, such as “CD-ROM”, or “JPEG”.

        Reply
  19. Ulric Henry -  August 1, 2015 - 7:28 am

    Lee Iacocca was chairman of Chrysler Corp .IACOCCA is the acronym for I Am Chairman O f Chrysler Corp.of America.Isn’t this cool?

    Reply
    • John -  April 10, 2016 - 8:15 am

      Cool, in a coincidental sort of way.

      Reply
  20. Ulric Henry -  August 1, 2015 - 3:38 am

    Lee Iacocca was Chairman of Chrysler Corporation. His surname is an acronym for I Am Chairman Of Chrysler Corporation Of America. Isn’t that cool?

    Reply
  21. Maria Konstantinidou -  July 31, 2015 - 11:57 am

    Hallo !
    Very interesting the site and the presentation of special words and their origin.
    at that point I would like to let be known that the word is Greek, formed from the words the greek word for the and a part of the also greek word transformed to and having the meaning of in greek and general literature as in the worldwide words which also consists of the greek word meaning and the suffix , a form developed from when used as a suffix..
    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Jimbo Jr. -  April 4, 2016 - 1:57 pm

      TLDR

      Reply
  22. olaitan mary -  July 30, 2015 - 6:41 am

    Got it ! thanks

    Reply
  23. Dixie -  July 24, 2015 - 10:05 am

    Happy to know that I know the difference.

    Reply
  24. Joshua Prince -  July 23, 2015 - 9:47 am

    Can someone tell me what is correct when speaking and writing? Is it an heir or a heir? Or an hour or a hour? None of these were corrected in autocorrect so….

    Reply
    • Steve -  July 23, 2015 - 6:35 pm

      Any h- word with disappeared h to pronunciate should have ‘an’ article (an hour, an heir)
      Similarly, any u- word which pronunced as yu- should have ‘a’ article (a university, a uniform)

      Reply
      • Wet turd -  April 6, 2016 - 6:53 am

        Wrong that is wrong

        Reply
        • iimeme -  April 6, 2016 - 5:44 pm

          Actually, Steve’s comment in correct.
          If an ‘h’ is silent at the beginning of a word, ‘an’ is used. Similar things are found in other languages (such as French’s Liaison) where pronunciation and spelling changes for vowels or silent ‘h’s.’

          Reply
    • Donald Arkin -  July 24, 2015 - 2:48 am

      The choice of “a” or “an” before a noun is determined by whether or not the initial sound (not letter) of that word is a vowel sound. Since both “heir” and “hour” start with a vowel sound, “an” is the proper choice of indefinite article. Sometimes, a word can have two pronunciations, and things get tricky. In British English, “herb” starts with an “h” sound, so one says “a herb”. And “an NFL team” would seem to be the choice in that phrase.

      Reply
      • Kayo -  August 1, 2015 - 10:34 pm

        I’m confused. How did this thread end up in a discussion about abbreviations and acronyms? That said, “an NFL team” would not be an exception to your stated rule of thumb since “NFL”, being an initialism and not an acronym (see how I got the discussion back on track?), begins with a vowel sound.

        Reply
      • Jeff -  April 5, 2016 - 7:55 am

        Extra points for pointing out that it’s different in American English vs. British English.

        Reply
      • Phoenix -  April 7, 2016 - 9:33 pm

        Actually, “an NFL team” is correct. The N in this case is pronounced “en” as if it were a vowel vs the N in “a neat conversation” where the N is pronounced as the consonant sound “nee”.

        Reply
    • savannah -  April 5, 2016 - 3:53 pm

      are you realy a prince

      Reply
    • Mara -  August 4, 2016 - 9:11 pm

      Vowel sound: use article ‘an’
      Consonant sound: use article ‘a’

      Reply
  25. John Denton -  July 23, 2015 - 1:37 am

    Often seen in medical records of a child who’s obviously got something wrong with him or her, but in whom the diagnosis is elusive:
    “Diag. FLK” (Funny Looking Kid)

    Reply
    • Emily -  July 31, 2015 - 4:56 am

      LOL! :)

      Reply
    • FLK -  April 9, 2016 - 11:24 am

      thats me!

      Reply
  26. Chris -  July 19, 2015 - 12:47 pm

    That is a good things to learn.

    Reply
  27. Shar Feldheim -  July 18, 2015 - 7:11 am

    You might mention that some initialisms, e.g.,LOL, OMG, LMAO, survived because early cell phones made it hard to spell words. An “O” (lc) required 3 presses on ’6′, an “S” (lc) required 4 presses on ’7′.

    Now we just press the letters on a virtual qwerty keyboard.

    Reply
    • Kayo -  August 1, 2015 - 10:40 pm

      LMAO? A new one on me. Had to look it up.

      Reply
    • Mara -  August 4, 2016 - 9:15 pm

      LOL is an acronym. LMAO is a hybrid.

      Reply
  28. Linda Villa -  July 18, 2015 - 4:12 am

    one of my favorite acronyms is scuba, self contained underwater breathing apparatus.

    Reply
    • Joshua Prince -  July 23, 2015 - 9:45 am

      Never knew that, thanks!

      Reply
      • YOUR CAT :) -  April 9, 2016 - 11:25 am

        I did, but we all are not =the same

        Reply
        • YOUR CAT :) -  April 9, 2016 - 11:26 am

          ………………………….. ;)

          Reply
  29. mitch sackson -  July 17, 2015 - 3:45 pm

    USASADEA pronounced usa sadie a
    meaning United States Army Signal Air Defence Engineering Agency

    from about 1956 or so

    Reply
  30. Ron -  July 17, 2015 - 11:22 am

    Maybe we could call the hybrids such as CD-ROM “acronymisms”. (Not to be confused with “anachronisms”.) (Note that I place the periods in the preceding sentences outside the quotation marks. This era of digital publishing eliminates the need to place the period inside terminal quotation marks so as to protect it [along with another small punctuation mark the comma] from other sorts of mechanical typeface.)

    Reply
    • Kayo -  August 1, 2015 - 10:56 pm

      Love the new term! l personally agree with your decision on period placement. In this case, the period is not part of the quote. But it has nothing to do with the digital age. For the Brits, this is now the preferred form of punctuation. But my bosses firmly disagree, so I pay attention to it.

      Reply
      • Mamasama -  August 29, 2015 - 5:48 pm

        If the quotation is a complete sentence, the period (or other ending punctuation for a question or exclamation) is typed within the quotation marks. If a sentence ends with a word or phrase that is in quotation marks but not representative of a complete thought, the period is outside of the quotation marks. According to traditional MLA style; however, the British and APA have the period outside of the quotation marks. So know what format is expected for your paper!

        Reply
        • JillianY -  April 14, 2016 - 5:31 pm

          Thank you so much, Mamasama. Your explanation of quotation marks is very clear and concise.

          Reply
          • Keith Anker -  April 20, 2016 - 10:55 pm

            That still leaves one point out:
            A complete sentence finishing inside quotation marks should have the period inside, too. But if that is the end of the containing sentence, then there should also be a period outside.

  31. Eva -  July 17, 2015 - 2:03 am

    Who didn’t know this? C’mon

    Reply
  32. ukpai -  July 16, 2015 - 11:07 pm

    i’ve always known the difference between the two words.

    Reply
    • Phoenix -  April 7, 2016 - 9:14 pm

      Always known? As in you were born with the knowledge? Just sayin’. I am a stickler for semantics.

      Reply
  33. Kim adams -  July 16, 2015 - 10:13 pm

    This is very interesting, but I would live to see a compilation of many of the most popular a brevity ons that are in general use today, to tell the truth, I’m lost!

    Reply
    • ROBIN LAMUR -  September 11, 2015 - 3:32 pm

      LOST as in Kim Adams

      ALL THESE COMMENTS ARE FABULOUS . I AM HAVING A HARD TIME FOLLOWING THEM AND UNDERSTANDING THEM TOO !!!

      Reply
    • Keith Anker -  April 20, 2016 - 10:59 pm

      I looked up “LMAO” via google; and one of the entries was a YAHOO answer, which then listed about three pages of others.That might be some help.

      Reply
  34. Eunsup -  July 16, 2015 - 9:25 pm

    Hi, I’m a linguist have some interests about word formation. I have a request.
    Could you give me references you used for this column? Which books or papers did you refer?
    Give me information please!

    Reply
  35. Aisha -  July 16, 2015 - 9:47 am

    Acronyms are very useful during school

    Reply
    • Mamasama -  August 29, 2015 - 5:52 pm

      The field of Education thrives on the “alphabet soup” of acronyms. Certainly our government might also be far easier to understand if every different section of it didn’t have it’s own hoard of acronyms. I wonder if anyone has thought of compiling an acronym dictionary?

      Reply
      • ROBIN LAMUR -  September 11, 2015 - 3:33 pm

        great idea, lol etc

        Reply
        • Cosmic Carrie -  April 5, 2016 - 3:28 pm

          Yeah, I agree with most of the decisions/suggestions that everyone else has made. Acronyms are mostly used at school, but abbreviations can take its place. Too hard to read? I’ll shorten it. Acronyms > Abbreviations. Better know that “greater than” sign!

          Reply
  36. Kasule Sharifu -  July 15, 2015 - 8:36 pm

    most people do confuse the two words but thanks for the clarification

    Reply
  37. Dilia bobadilla -  July 15, 2015 - 7:52 pm

    YOLO as acronym
    Fyi
    Diy

    Reply
  38. ken -  July 15, 2015 - 5:13 pm

    Hi, I know my comment might not be right place but I think there many people concern about it:

    Please bring Word Dynamo back on website
    It’s really helpful for many people who study English.

    Please tell us what’s happening. We are very nervous about losing it forever.

    Thanks
    Regards
    Ken

    Reply

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