Into the heat and happy languor of summer, a chilly reminder of grades and scores is smacking students. Right now, people who took the ACT national exam in June are learning their scores. This may explain why the teens around you seem more ecstatic, despondent, or confused than usual.

You probably know how it works: kids take the ACT or the SAT, learn their scores, then send the results to schools that will decide the fate of America’s youth.

As for the trick question, since 1996, the ACT has been short for nothing. The test was developed in the 1950s as a rival to the SAT and was originally short for “American College Testing.” According to the ACT Web site, the name change is meant to reflect “ACT’s diverse and evolving roles.” It’s no longer a strictly American company, it no longer deals with college test prep exclusively, and it no longer only does tests . . . the company also deals with test preparation and learning.

An abbreviation that is pronounced using the sounds of the letters (if ACT was pronounced as “to act in a play”) rather than their names is called an initialism. An example besides ACT is NATO. The closest term for an abbreviation that ceases to stand for anything besides itself is a pseudo-acronym.

What about SAT? Here’s an even stranger story. The acronym started out in 1901 as the Scholastic Aptitude Test. In the 1990s, the general SAT was named the SAT I: Reasoning Test and the acronym was transformed into a pseudo-acronym. Exams organized by subject were named the SAT II: Subject Tests. One reason for dropping the meaning of the acronym was criticism that the SAT didn’t actually measure scholastic aptitude. Shortly thereafter, the main test was renamed the SAT Reasoning Test and the Roman numerals were dropped. (Maybe the long names were too reminiscent of the “Star Wars” film titles, “SAT, Episode II: The Antonyms Strike Back.”)

For extra-credit, answer the following question in essay form in the comments below. What does it mean when the names of  tests designed to measure critical faculties require labyrinthine explanations to understand? Bonus points for each Word of the Day you include.

People suffering from chemical sensitivity have trouble finding help.(Originated from Knight-Ridder Newspapers)

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service February 16, 1996 | Fish, Sandra BOULDER, Colo. _ Marilyn and Richard King find it difficult to get a night’s sleep that is free of headaches, watery eyes, itchy noses, dry throats and other irritations.

Searching for a new mattress, they blamed their woes on chemicals, such as formaldehyde, used in bedding. After the return of several mattresses and a futile trip to an allergist, the couple is still searching for a solution to their allergy-like symptoms.

“Most mattresses have foam in them, and foam has formaldehyde,” Marilyn says. “I went to an allergist and he said, `There’s nothing I can do for you.’ ” Sensitivities like the Kings have to chemicals in common household products _ from mattresses to carpeting, from perfumes to hairspray _ are at the heart of a debate among physicians.

Many allergists contend that these sensitivities are caused by more common allergies, such as those to dust mites, or are psychosomatic. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology adopted a position about 10 years ago that sensitivities to numerous chemicals haven’t been established as a proven ailment.

On the other hand, physicians who practice so-called “environmental medicine” maintain that multiple chemical sensitivity exists when “intense and adverse responses occur to components of the patient’s environment, whether it be water, food, air or physical properties,” according to the Environmental and Preventive Health Center of Atlanta. site ingrown toenail treatment

Estimates of those who suffer from chemical sensitivity range from 2.5 million to 37 million people in the United States, says Cynthia Wilson, executive director of the Chemical Injury Information Network in White Sulphur Springs, Montana. Symptoms often resemble those of allergies and may include headaches, nausea, blurred vision and neurological difficulties.

“There are a group of people who have a sort of environmental sensitivity … which is very difficult to diagnose and treat,” says Dr. Stephen Whitehead, an allergist at Boulder Medical Center in Boulder, Colo. “If you can’t identify the cause of the problem, that’s when you’re in trouble, because it’s difficult to avoid” irritants.

For Wilson, exposure to chemicals such as hairspray resulted in difficulty with memory and reasoning.

“On exposure to dried hairspray on a cotton ball … the latency of my … brainwave doubled, going from slightly abnormal to extremely abnormal,” she says of laboratory tests she underwent.

Wilson says multiple chemical sensitivities are a central nervous system problem, although some physicians diagnose the condition as an immune system disorder.

“We do have more immune system abnormalities than you can shake a stick at, but they are not consistent” among patients, she says. “In the last three years, tremendous work has been done on the metabolic problems of the chemically injured.” One of the best ways to distinguish chemical sensitivity is a double-blind testing procedure involving the chemical suspected and a placebo, says Dr. Larry Borish, a staff physician at Denver’s National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine.

“Let’s find out which chemical a person is really sensitive to,” he says.

Wilson controls her illness with a diet high in carbohydrates and antioxidents and by avoiding chemicals that might trigger a reaction.

What works for one person may not work for others, says Dr. Iris Bell, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona, who is studying chemical sensitivities.

“I have rarely seen one thing make the whole problem go away,” she says. “Avoidance is the mainstay of the approach, and that has its controversies.” Some people find that alternative treatments such as acupuncture or dietary changes help, sometimes in combination with psychotherapy.

Wilson went to several doctors before finding a satisfactory diagnosis.

“Because it mimics allergies, most people find themselves going to allergists,” Wilson says.

But as Marilyn King learned, that can be frustrating.

“There is not reproduceable evidence that that kind of sensitivity exists,”says Dr. John R. Cohn, clinical associate professor of medicine and assistant professor of medicine at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. “They often find some psychological underpinning. go to web site ingrown toenail treatment

“Sensitivity, which is more this kind of non-specific (thing), is just that (non-specific),” he says. “It’s like having an ingrown toenail. If you brush your ingrown toenail against the bed, it’s going to hurt more than it would a person with a normal toenail.” But Borish says he understands the frustration of those who suffer sensitivity to chemicals.

“As a health-care provider, there’s no doubt that there are a lot of people out there who have something severely wrong with them,” Borish says. “Frankly, the medical community doesn’t do these people much good … There’s something real that’s the matter here.” The lack of definitive scientific research leaves many physicians skeptical about complaints of chemical sensitivity, Borish says.

“It doesn’t get resolved because there’s very little funded research on it,” Bell says.

And in some instances, the problem may indeed be psychological, thus the double-blind testing. “If you are convinced you have chemical sensitivity, like to perfume or to fresh wall-to-wall carpeting … it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Borish says.

Wilson says multiple chemical sensitivity is following in the footsteps of other diseases, such as lupus or multiple sclerosis, that originally were considered psychological problems.

“Basically in the U.S., if you can’t pinpoint … an illness, it’s considered a psychological illness,” she says.

But Cohn says people who complain of multiple chemical sensitivities often fit a socio-economic profile _ white collar, low-level managers or clerical workers.

“You don’t very often find people on an assembly line or in a factory complaining of multiple chemical sensitivity,” he says. “If multiple chemical sensitivity is real, it should happen to the president of General Motors, not just the secretary.” That doesn’t necessarily mean there’s nothing wrong with someone who is reacting to certain chemicals. Cohn says he recently examined a man who left his job, claiming diesel fumes were causing severe problems. Instead, Cohn discovered he had a gastronomical problem.

In another instance, Cohn says, a woman sensitive to air freshener died _ her ailment hadn’t been properly diagnosed as asthma.

“Through misdiagnosis, people don’t get treatment for possibly treatable conditions,” he says.

That leads to one thing people on both sides of the chemical sensitivity argument agree upon: those suffering from reactions resembling allergies or triggered by chemicals should keep consulting medical opinions until they find help.

Whitehead suggests that reactions may be due to more common allergies such as dust, mold or pollen, and that patients should be tested for such allergies.

“These are usually very straight-forward problems,” he says. “You can find a cause and effect and treat them.” If allergies aren’t present, people should keep searching for help.

“They should see a real good doctor and get a real good evaluation,” Cohn says.

Meanwhile, the Kings purchased an air mattress, but they’re still having trouble sleeping and blame their reactions on the chemicals in the mattress.

“If people have not had extreme sensitivity to household products, it’s hard for them to understand,” Richard says. “But it can make your life miserable.” (EDITORS: Photo available from KRT Photo Service; call 202-383-6099. Photos move on KRT Photo Service and are posted to the “KRT Daily Photos” icon in category folder on PressLink the day the story moves. One week after transmission, archive photos are available via keyword search in the KRT Photo Archive on PressLink via Macintosh computer; call (800) 435-7578 or (202) 383-6099.) Fish, Sandra


  1. KATIE -  April 20, 2012 - 6:29 pm

    I <3 MY BFF!

    Ya Hannah L.

  2. Hester -  August 7, 2011 - 9:05 am

    Grade A stuff. I’m unquesntioably in your debt.

  3. K3LL7 -  February 12, 2011 - 11:39 am

    Names for test that are designed to measure critical faculties require labyrinthine explanations to understand: so to signify, symbolize and submit to the old axiom “As above, so below.”

  4. Rachael -  September 17, 2010 - 8:11 am

    The parenthetical part of the sentence is the relevant bit. They are asking us to imagine, just for a moment, that instead of “Ay See Tee,” the test’s acronym was pronounced “act.” It’s a bad hypothetical, and seems randomly thrown in, but the logic is still correct. In the hypothetical situation in which ACT was pronounced like “act”, it would be an initialism.

  5. off to dvd store -  September 17, 2010 - 3:22 am

    To answer the question posed in the artice, that would be some kind of a situation which inevitably put you in a double-bind position as I have learned so far. That would not what I would stick to though.

  6. Bill -  September 16, 2010 - 7:34 pm

    Here is the definition of initialism according to Dictionary.com:

    1.a name or term formed from the initial letters of a group of words and pronounced as a separate word, as NATO for North Atlantic Treaty Organization; an acronym.

    2.a set of initials representing a name, organization, or the like, with each letter pronounced separately, as FBI for Federal Bureau of Investigation.

    So apparently an initialism can either be an acronym that is pronounced according to the individual letters it is composed of; or by the word formed by these letters. Therefore initialism and acronym are the exact same word.

  7. Mr. X -  July 7, 2010 - 11:43 pm

    @ william & marda
    you are just boring yourself

  8. marda -  July 1, 2010 - 10:15 pm

    @ William,
    I couldn’t agree more, who cares what a test is called its still a test and thinking of tests gives me nightmares…i’m off!!!!

  9. wILLIam -  July 1, 2010 - 7:46 pm

    what a boring blog…

  10. dakra -  June 30, 2010 - 8:42 am


  11. jaced -  June 28, 2010 - 5:50 pm

    My conclusion:

    An initialism and an acronym are both abbreviations. Acronyms are sounded out to form words (SCUBA, NATO, etc.) while the letters in intialisms are sounded out separately (eff-bee-eye, see-eye-ay, etc.)


    The article on this page has it flip-flopped, which only makes the mangled sentence that much more confusing.

    Nice catch!

  12. jaced -  June 28, 2010 - 5:38 pm

    You’re right. That sentence is a mess.

    It’s about the pronunciation. The folks here at dictionary.com are proposing that an initialism is a subset of an acronym. (i.e. While USA and SCUBA are both acronyms, only SCUBA is an initialism.)

    However, some would say the jury’s still out on that one if you start looking around. As a matter of fact, the folks over at Yahoo would argue that the blogger here at dictionary.com has it backward:


  13. julie v -  June 28, 2010 - 2:54 pm

    I realize this is totally not important, it’s just perplexing and preying on my mind.

    “An abbreviation that is pronounced using the sounds of the letters (if ACT was pronounced as “to act in a play”) rather than their names is called an initialism as opposed to an acronym. An example besides ACT is NATO.”

    I don’t get this sentence. An acronym is when the initials of a name form a word. NATO is an acronym pronounced Na-to, ACT is pronounced A-C-T. Why are they grouped?

    According to the links above…

    a name or term formed from the initial letters of a group of words and pronounced as a separate word, as NATO for North Atlantic Treaty Organization; an acronym.
    a set of initials representing a name, organization, or the like, with each letter pronounced separately, as FBI for Federal Bureau of Investigation.

    a word formed from the initial letters or groups of letters of words in a set phrase or series of words, as Wac from Women’s Army Corps, OPEC from Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or loran from long-range navigation


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