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There are no universal standards of the multiple names for such abbreviations and of their orthographic styling. In English and most other languages, such abbreviations historically had limited use, but they became much more common in the 20th century. Acronyms are a type of word formation process, and they are viewed as a subtype of blending.
Whereas an abbreviation may be any type of shortened form, such as words with the middle omitted (for example, Rd for road or Dr for Doctor), an acronym is a word formed from the first letter or first few letters of each word in a phrase (such as sonar, created from sound navigation and ranging). Attestations for Akronym in German are known from 1921, and for acronym in English from 1940.
Although the word acronym is often used to refer to any abbreviation formed from initial letters, many dictionaries and usage commentators define acronym to mean an abbreviation that is pronounced as a word, in contrast to an initialism (or alphabetism)—an abbreviation formed from a string of initials (and possibly pronounced as individual letters). Some dictionaries include additional senses equating acronym with initialism. The distinction, when made, hinges on whether the abbreviation is pronounced as a word or as a string of individual letters. Examples in reference works that make the distinction include NATO //, scuba //, and radar // for acronyms—and FBI //, CRT //, and HTML // for initialisms. The rest of this article uses acronym for both types of abbreviation.
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