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Acronym


An acronym is a word or name formed as an abbreviation from the initial components in a phrase or a word, usually individual letters (as in NATO or laser) and sometimes syllables (as in Benelux).

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 /ˈnt/, scuba /ˈskbə/, and radar /ˈrdɑːr/ for acronyms—‌and FBI /ˌɛfˌbˈ/, CRT /ˌˈsˌɑːrˌt/, and HTML /ˌˌtˌɛmˈɛl/ for initialisms. The rest of this article uses acronym for both types of abbreviation.



  • Pronounced as a word, containing only initial letters
    • NATO: North Atlantic Treaty Organization
    • Scuba: self-contained underwater breathing apparatus
    • Laser: light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation
    • GIF: Graphics Interchange Format
  • Pronounced as a word, containing non-initial letters
    • Amphetamine: alpha-methylphenethylamine
    • Gestapo: Geheime Staatspolizei ('secret state police')
    • Interpol: International Criminal Police Organization
    • Nabisco: National Biscuit Co
  • Pronounced as a string of letters, containing syllable-initial but not necessarily word-initial letters
    • PMN: polymorphonuclear leukocytes
    • OCA: oculocutaneous albinism
    • PCM: paracoccidioidomycosis
  • Pronounced as a word, containing a mixture of initial and non-initial letters
    • AIDS: acquired immunodeficiency syndrome
    • Necco: New England Confectionery Company
    • Radar: radio detection and ranging
  • Pronounced as a word or as a string of letters, depending on speaker or context
    • FAQ: ([fæk] or ef-ay-cue) frequently asked question
    • IRA: When used for Individual Retirement Account, can be pronounced as letters (i-ar-a) or as a word [ˈaɪrə].
    • SAT(s): ([sæt] or ess-ay-tee) (previously)
      • Scholastic Achievement (or Aptitude) Test(s) (US) (now claimed not to stand for anything) or
      • Standard Assessment Test(s) (UK)
    • SQL: ([siːkwəl] or ess-cue-el) Structured Query Language.
  • Pronounced as a combination of spelling out and a word
    • CD-ROM: (cee-dee-[rɒm]) Compact Disc read-only memory
    • IUPAC: (i-u-[pæk]) International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry
    • JPEG: (jay-[pɛɡ]) Joint Photographic Experts Group
    • SFMOMA: (ess-ef-[moʊmə]) San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • Pronounced only as a string of letters
    • BBC: British Broadcasting Corporation
    • OEM: original equipment manufacturer
    • USA: United States of America
    • MEC: Mountain Equipment Co-Op
  • Pronounced as a string of letters, but with a shortcut
  • Shortcut incorporated into name
    • 3M: (three M) originally Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company
    • (ISC)²: (ISC-squared) International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium
    • W3C: (W three C) World Wide Web Consortium
    • C4ISTAR: (C four I star) Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance
  • Multi-layered acronyms
    • NAC Breda: (Dutch football club) NOAD ADVENDO Combinatie ("NOAD ADVENDO Combination"),
      formed by the 1912 merger of two clubs from Breda:
      • NOAD
        (Nooit Opgeven Altijd Doorgaan "Never give up, always persevere")
      • ADVENDO
        (Aangenaam Door Vermaak En Nuttig Door Ontspanning "Pleasant by entertainment and useful by relaxation")
    • GAIM (former name of Pidgin): GTK+ AOL Instant Messenger
    • GIMP: GNU Image Manipulation Program
    • VHDL: VHSIC hardware description language, where VHSIC stands for very-high-speed integrated circuit.
  • Recursive acronyms, in which the abbreviation refers to itself
    • GNU: GNU's not Unix!
    • Wine: Wine is not an emulator (originally, Windows emulator)
    • These may go through multiple layers before the self-reference is found:
      • HURD: HIRD of Unix-replacing daemons, where "HIRD" stands for "HURD of interfaces representing depth"
  • Pseudo-acronyms, which consist of a sequence of characters that, when pronounced as intended, invoke other, longer words with less typing
    • CQ: cee-cue for "seek you", a code used by radio operators
    • IOU: i-o-u for "I owe you" (the true acronym would be IOY)
    • : kay-nine for "canine", used to designate police units utilizing dogs
    • : cue-eight for "Kuwait"
  • Abbreviations whose last abbreviated word is often redundantly included anyway
    • ATM machine: automated teller machine (machine)
    • HIV virus: human immunodeficiency virus (virus)
    • LCD display: liquid crystal display (display)
    • PIN number: personal identification number (number)
  • NATO: North Atlantic Treaty Organization
  • Scuba: self-contained underwater breathing apparatus
  • Laser: light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation
  • GIF: Graphics Interchange Format
  • Amphetamine: alpha-methylphenethylamine
  • Gestapo: Geheime Staatspolizei ('secret state police')
  • Interpol: International Criminal Police Organization
  • Nabisco: National Biscuit Co
  • PMN: polymorphonuclear leukocytes
  • OCA: oculocutaneous albinism
  • PCM: paracoccidioidomycosis
  • AIDS: acquired immunodeficiency syndrome
  • Necco: New England Confectionery Company
  • Radar: radio detection and ranging
  • FAQ: ([fæk] or ef-ay-cue) frequently asked question
  • IRA: When used for Individual Retirement Account, can be pronounced as letters (i-ar-a) or as a word [ˈaɪrə].
  • SAT(s): ([sæt] or ess-ay-tee) (previously)
    • Scholastic Achievement (or Aptitude) Test(s) (US) (now claimed not to stand for anything) or
    • Standard Assessment Test(s) (UK)
  • SQL: ([siːkwəl] or ess-cue-el) Structured Query Language.
  • Scholastic Achievement (or Aptitude) Test(s) (US) (now claimed not to stand for anything) or
  • Standard Assessment Test(s) (UK)
  • CD-ROM: (cee-dee-[rɒm]) Compact Disc read-only memory
  • IUPAC: (i-u-[pæk]) International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry
  • JPEG: (jay-[pɛɡ]) Joint Photographic Experts Group
  • SFMOMA: (ess-ef-[moʊmə]) San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • BBC: British Broadcasting Corporation
  • OEM: original equipment manufacturer
  • USA: United States of America
  • MEC: Mountain Equipment Co-Op
  • 3M: (three M) originally Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company
  • (ISC)²: (ISC-squared) International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium
  • W3C: (W three C) World Wide Web Consortium
  • C4ISTAR: (C four I star) Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance
  • NAC Breda: (Dutch football club) NOAD ADVENDO Combinatie ("NOAD ADVENDO Combination"),
    formed by the 1912 merger of two clubs from Breda:
    • NOAD
      (Nooit Opgeven Altijd Doorgaan "Never give up, always persevere")
    • ADVENDO
      (Aangenaam Door Vermaak En Nuttig Door Ontspanning "Pleasant by entertainment and useful by relaxation")
  • GAIM (former name of Pidgin): GTK+ AOL Instant Messenger
  • GIMP: GNU Image Manipulation Program
  • VHDL: VHSIC hardware description language, where VHSIC stands for very-high-speed integrated circuit.
  • NOAD
    (Nooit Opgeven Altijd Doorgaan "Never give up, always persevere")
  • ADVENDO
    (Aangenaam Door Vermaak En Nuttig Door Ontspanning "Pleasant by entertainment and useful by relaxation")
  • GNU: GNU's not Unix!
  • Wine: Wine is not an emulator (originally, Windows emulator)
  • These may go through multiple layers before the self-reference is found:
    • HURD: HIRD of Unix-replacing daemons, where "HIRD" stands for "HURD of interfaces representing depth"
  • HURD: HIRD of Unix-replacing daemons, where "HIRD" stands for "HURD of interfaces representing depth"
  • CQ: cee-cue for "seek you", a code used by radio operators
  • IOU: i-o-u for "I owe you" (the true acronym would be IOY)
  • : kay-nine for "canine", used to designate police units utilizing dogs
  • : cue-eight for "Kuwait"
  • ATM machine: automated teller machine (machine)
  • HIV virus: human immunodeficiency virus (virus)
  • LCD display: liquid crystal display (display)
  • PIN number: personal identification number (number)
  • Acronyms were used in Rome before the Christian era. For example, the official name for the Roman Empire, and the Republic before it, was abbreviated as SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus). Inscriptions dating from antiquity, both on stone and on coins, use a lot of abbreviations and acronyms to save room and work. For example, Roman first names, of which there was only a small set, were almost always abbreviated. Common terms were abbreviated too, such as writing just "F" for filius, meaning "son of", a very common part of memorial inscriptions mentioning people. Grammatical markers were abbreviated or left out entirely if they could be inferred from the rest of the text.
  • So-called nomina sacra were used in many Greek biblical manuscripts. The common words "God" (Θεός), "Jesus" (Ιησούς), "Christ" (Χριστός), and some others, would be abbreviated by their first and last letters, marked with an overline. This was just one of many kinds of conventional scribal abbreviation, used to reduce the time-consuming workload of the scribe and save on valuable writing materials. The same convention is still commonly used in the inscriptions on religious icons and the stamps used to mark the eucharistic bread in eastern churches.
  • The early Christians in Rome, most of whom were Greek rather than Latin speakers, used the image of a fish as a symbol for Jesus in part because of an acronym—fish in Greek is ichthys (ΙΧΘΥΣ), which was said to stand for Ἰησοῦς Χριστός Θεοῦ Υἱός Σωτήρ (Iesous CHristos THeou hUios Soter: "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior"). This interpretation dates from the 2nd and 3rd centuries and is preserved in the catacombs of Rome. And for centuries, the Church has used the inscription INRI over the crucifix, which stands for the Latin Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum ("Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews").
  • The Hebrew language has a long history of formation of acronyms pronounced as words, stretching back many centuries. The Hebrew Bible ("Old Testament") is known as "Tanakh", an acronym composed from the Hebrew initial letters of its three major sections: Torah (five books of Moses), Nevi'im (prophets), and K'tuvim (writings). Many rabbinical figures from the Middle Ages onward are referred to in rabbinical literature by their pronounced acronyms, such as Rambam and Rashi from the initial letters of their full Hebrew names: Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon and Rabbi Shlomo Yitzkhaki.
  • The use of Latin and Neo-Latin terms in vernaculars has been pan-European and predates modern English. Some examples of acronyms in this class are:
    • A.M. (from Latin ante meridiem, "before noon") and P.M. (from Latin post meridiem, "after noon")
    • A.D. (from Latin Anno Domini, "in the year of our Lord"), whose complement in English, B.C. [Before Christ], is English-sourced
    • O.K., a term of disputed origin, dating back at least to the early 19th century, now used around the world
  • A.M. (from Latin ante meridiem, "before noon") and P.M. (from Latin post meridiem, "after noon")
  • A.D. (from Latin Anno Domini, "in the year of our Lord"), whose complement in English, B.C. [Before Christ], is English-sourced
  • O.K., a term of disputed origin, dating back at least to the early 19th century, now used around the world
  • DVD was originally an acronym of the unofficial term digital video disk, but is now stated by the DVD Forum as standing for Digital Versatile Disc.
  • GAO changed the full form of its name from General Accounting Office to Government Accountability Office.
  • GPO changed the full form of its name from Government Printing Office to Government Publishing Office.
  • RAID used to mean Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks, but is now commonly interpreted as Redundant Array of Independent Disks.
  • WWF originally stood for World Wildlife Fund, but now stands for Worldwide Fund for Nature (although the former name is still used in Canada and the United States).
  • The UICC, whose initials came from the Romance-language versions of its name (such as French Union Internationale Contre le Cancer, "International Union Against Cancer"), changed the English expansion of its name to Union for International Cancer Control (from International Union Against Cancer) so that the English expansion, too, would correspond to the UICC initials.
  • XHR stands for "XML HTTP Request", in which XML is "eXtensible Markup Language", and HTTP stands for "HyperText Transfer Protocol".
  • POWER stands for Performance Optimization With Enhanced RISC, in which RISC stands for Reduced Instruction Set Computing.
  • VHDL stands for "VHSIC Hardware Description Language", in which VHSIC stands for "Very High Speed Integrated Circuit".
  • XSD stands for "XML Schema Definition", in which XML stands for "eXtensible Markup Language".
  • SECS stands for "SEMI equipment communication standard", in which SEMI stands for "Semiconductor equipment manufacturing industries".
  • AIM stands for "AOL Instant Messenger", in which AOL stands for "America Online".
  • HASP stood for Houston Automatic Spooling Priority, but spooling itself was an acronym – simultaneous peripheral operations on-line
  • GNU stands for "GNU's Not Unix"
  • LAME stands for "LAME Ain't an MP3 Encoder"
  • PHP stands for "PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor"
  • WINE stands for "WINE Is Not an Emulator"
  • HURD stands for "HIRD of Unix-replacing daemons", where HIRD itself stands for "HURD of interfaces representing depth" (a "mutually recursive" acronym)
  • An acronym is pronounced as a word: Nato [nato]Natoon [natoːn] "into Nato"
  • An acronym is pronounced as letters: EU [eː uː]EU:hun [eː uːhun] "into EU"
  • An acronym is interpreted as words: EU [euroːpan unioni]EU:iin [euroːpan unioniːn] "into EU"
  • The longest acronym, according to the 1965 edition of Acronyms, Initialisms and Abbreviations Dictionary, is ADCOMSUBORDCOMPHIBSPAC, a United States Navy term that stands for "Administrative Command, Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet Subordinate Command." Another term COMNAVSEACOMBATSYSENGSTA, which stands for "Commander, Naval Sea Systems Combat Engineering Station" is longer but the word "Combat" is not shortened.
  • The world's longest acronym, according to the Guinness Book of World Records is NIIOMTPLABOPARMBETZHELBETRABSBOMONIMONKONOTDTEKHSTROMONT (Нииомтплабопармбетжелбетрабсбомонимонконотдтехстромонт). The 56-letter acronym (54 in Cyrillic) is from the Concise Dictionary of Soviet Terminology and means "The laboratory for shuttering, reinforcement, concrete and ferroconcrete operations for composite-monolithic and monolithic constructions of the Department of the Technology of Building-assembly operations of the Scientific Research Institute of the Organization for building mechanization and technical aid of the Academy of Building and Architecture of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics." (научно-исследовательская [...] лаборатория операций по армированию бетона и железобетонных работ по сооружению сборно-монолитных и монолитных конструкций отдела технологии строительно-монтажного управления)
  • The card-game Magic: The Gathering has a playing card called "Our Market Research Shows That Players Like Really Long Card Names So We Made this Card to Have the Absolute Longest Card Name Ever Elemental", with text on it saying: "Just call it OMRSTPLRLCNSWMTCTHTALCNEE for short."
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