Dictionary.com

This is a trick question: What do the A, C, and T of the ACT test mean?

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.

13 Comments

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

    I <3 MY BFF!

    Ya Hannah L.

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

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

    Reply
  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.”

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  7. Mr. X -  July 7, 2010 - 11:43 pm

    @ william & marda
    you are just boring yourself

    Reply
  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!!!!

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

    what a boring blog…

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

    WoW…
    GeNiUs…

    Reply
  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.)

    http://www.lyberty.com/encyc/articles/abbr.html

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

    Nice catch!

    Reply
  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:

    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20061019152529AAq1juC

    Reply
  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…

    Initialism:
    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.

    Acronym:
    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

    Reply

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