Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Acronyms

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
English

An acronym is an abbreviation made up of the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a single word. The word acronym comes from Greek (via German) and is made up of the Greek roots 'acr-' meaning summit or tip and '-onym' meaning name.

  • The word 'laser' stands for 'light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation'.

  • The word 'radar' stands for 'radio detection and ranging'.

  • The word 'quasar' stands for 'quasi star'.

Types of Acronyms

Acronyms can vary and be divided into smaller groups. Here are some acronym examples:

Word acronyms

These common acronyms use initials of words to form one new word:

  • RAM - Random Access Memory

  • NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  • Laser - Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation

  • Scuba - Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus

  • POTUS - President of the United States

  • PAWS - Progressive Animal Welfare Society

  • NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organization

  • ASAP - As Soon As Possible.

  • AWOL - Absent Without Official Leave (or Absent Without Leave)

  • IMAX - Image Maximum

  • GIF - Graphics Interchange Format

  • PIN - Personal Identification Number

  • TIME magazine - The International Magazine of Events

  • MASH - Mobile Army Surgical Hospital

Some acronyms have interesting origins:

The word 'taser' was invented by Jack Cover in the 1970s. He named his invention after his favourite children's book character, Tom Swift, who was also an inventor. So, taser is the acronym of 'Thomas A Swift Electric Rifle'.

The word 'IKEA' also has an interesting story. A Swedish businessman called Ingvar Kamprad, with the help of his father, set up a retail store. The name of the company was made of the initials of his name and the place he was living (Ingvar Kamprad from Elmtaryd in Agunnaryd).

The word 'spam' was originally associated with the tinned meat launched in the US by the Hormel Corporation in 1937. But, according to the company's Spam Museum, the name spam was created by Ken Digneau, the brother of Hormel executive. It stands for Spiced Ham.

Fun fact: We say 'spam' now to mean junk or unsolicited emails - but did you know that its current meaning comes from a Monty Python sketch? (The sketch is about the tinned meat spam which is endlessly repeated on a restaurant menu).

Some acronyms have become such a part of everyday use that many people do not know or remember what they stand for, e.g., scuba, taser, radar, sonar. These would be called anacronyms, (from anachronism and acronym).

Acronyms - Scuba diver - StudySmarterScuba is both an acronym and an anacronym, JW - StudySmarter Originals

Three-letter acronyms

TLAs, or three-letter acronyms, are a way of shortening three-word phrases; for example, the word 'FAQ' stands for Frequently Asked Questions.

Three-letter acronyms also include countries, people, and communication, and are popular in computer language.

  • Countries: CAR (Central African Republic), USA (United States of America) UAE (United Arab Emirates)
  • People: FDR (Franklin D. Roosevelt), JFK (John F. Kennedy), MLK (Martin Luther King)
  • Computer: CPU (Central Processing Unit), DOS (Disk Operating System), RAM (Random-Access Memory)
  • File types: JPG (Joint Photographic Group) PDF (Portable Document Format)
  • TV networks: ABC (American Broadcasting Company), BBC (British Broadcasting Company)
  • Currency: USD (United States Dollars), GBP (Great British Pounds)
  • Shorthand texting: LOL, OMG

Syllabic Acronyms

Syllabic Acronyms use syllables of words instead of initials to make new words.

  • FOREX comes from 'Foreign Exchange'.
  • Interpol comes from 'International' + 'Police' (full name: International Criminal Police Organization).
  • NaNoWriMo comes from 'National Novel Writing Month', an annual creative-writing challenge that takes place in November.

Acronyms - A creative writer - StudySmarterNaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, JW - StudySmarter Originals

In syllabic acronyms, usually, the first syllable (or two) is used from each main word:

In the UK, there are two regulatory offices called:

  • Ofcom (Office of Communications)
  • Oftel (Office of Telecommunications)

Some neighbourhoods in New York City are named by syllabic abbreviation, such as:

  • Tribeca (Triangle below Canal Street)
  • SoHo (South of Houston Street)

Other American cities and regions have followed this habit:

  • SoMa (South of Market) in San Francisco

  • LoDo (Lower Downtown) in Denver.

  • SoCal (Southern California)

There are exceptions to the use of the first syllables, such as the US Navy term DESRON or DesRon from 'destroyer squadrons'.

Other groups

Some acronyms combine initials with words:

  • JPEG - Joint Photographic Experts Group (pronounced jay-peg)

  • MS-DOS - Microsoft Disk Operating System (pronounced em-es-dos)

Another group of acronyms combines syllabic abbreviations with initialisms and are also pronounced as words. Both of the following acronyms consist of two syllabic abbreviations followed by a single acronymic letter for 'ranging':

  • Radar - radio detection and ranging

  • Sonar - sound navigation ranging

Some acronyms are pronounced as letters, while others are pronounced as words:

  • The term 'URL' can be pronounced as letters (URL) or as a single word ('url').

  • The acronym 'LOL' (laughing out loud) first evolved on Usenet and has since been added to the Oxford English Dictionary. It is considered both an initialism (i.e., using initials only) and an acronym when it is pronounced aloud as a word 'lol'.

The fully written form of an acronym, initialism, or syllabic abbreviation is called its expansion. So, 'Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus' is the expansion of the acronym 'scuba'.

Backronyms

A backronym (also called an apronym or reverse acronym) is an acronym deliberately created for a word that isn't an acronym, often for comic effect. Backronyms often turn up in topics surrounding transport, communication and business.

  • Cadet - Can't Add, Doesn't Even Try

  • Banana - Built Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone

  • BANJO - Bang Another Nuisance Job Out

  • APE - Attentive, Peripheral, Empathic. The three main types of listening

  • Ark - A Random act of Kindness

The Backronym BANANA - StudySmarterBuild Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone, J.W. - StudySmarter Originals

Adidas is a brand thought to be an acronym for 'All Day I Dream About Sport', however, it is in fact named after the company founder Adolf 'Adi' Dassler. So, this makes 'All Day I Dream About Sport' the backronym, as it was thought of after the original trade name.

Another example is Wiki, which is normally believed to stand for 'What I Know Is'. In fact, Wiki is derived from the Hawaiian phrase wiki-wiki meaning 'fast'.

Macronyms

Macronyms (from macro + acronyms) are where one or more letters stand for acronyms or abbreviations themselves.

  • AIM stands for 'AOL Instant Messenger', in which 'AOL' originally stood for 'America Online'.

Recursive acronyms

A recursive acronym is an acronym that refers to itself. Usually, the first letter stands for the acronym itself.

Some organizations have recursive acronyms:

  • BWIA - BWIA West Indies Airways (formerly British West Indian Airways)
  • FARM - Farm Animal Rights Movement
  • VISA - Visa International Service Association

The RAS syndrome

The RAS syndrome is where the acronym is repeated together with all or a part of its own abbreviated form. For example, RAS Syndrome stands for Redundant Acronym Syndrome (so is an example of what it stands for, i.e. 'syndrome' is repeated).

The term was coined in 2001 by 'New Scientist' writer Stanley Newman in a humorous diagnosis of people who added extra words to acronyms.

  • PIN number (Personal Identification Number number)
  • ATM machine (Automated Teller Machine machine)
  • LCD display (Liquid Crystal Display display)
  • DC Comics (Detective Comics comics)

Many style guides advise against using redundant acronyms like these, but they continue to be widely used in colloquial speech.

Portmanteau:

A portmanteau is a type of word that could seem like an acronym but works a bit differently.

Portmanteau was originally a leather travelling bag that opened into two equal parts, however, it later came to be used to describe the combination of two words and their sounds into one.

Lewis Carroll first used portmanteau in this sense in Through the Looking-Glass (1871). We can find examples in the poem 'Jabberwocky', such as 'slithy' (which means 'slimy and lithe') and 'mimsy' (which means 'miserable and flimsy').

In one scene, Alice meets Humpty Dumpty who explains to Alice the practice of combining words in various ways:

You see it's like a portmanteau - there are two meanings packed up into one word.

Carroll uses the word portmanteau again in the introduction to his later poem 'The Hunting of the Snark':

Humpty Dumpty's theory, of two meanings packed into one word like a portmanteau, seems to me the right explanation for all. For instance, take the two words 'fuming' and 'furious'. Make up your mind that you will say both words, but leave it unsettled which you will say first ... if you have the rarest of gifts, a perfectly balanced mind, you will say 'frumious'.

(Carroll, 'Introduction to Hunting of the Snark', 1876)

 Acronyms - Humpty Dumpty explains portmanteau to Alice - StudySmarterAlice and Humpty Dumpty, public domain, portmanteau illustration, J.W. - StudySmarter Originals

The following are considered as portmanteaus by some, and as acronyms by others.

  • Smog (smoke and fog)

  • Motel (motor(way) and hotel)

  • Chortle (chuckle and snort)

  • Brunch (breakfast and lunch)

  • Mockumentary (mock and documentary)

  • Spork (spoon and fork)

Portmanteau is similar to a syllabic acronym in that it takes syllables and morphemes from different words. However, portmanteau creates a blend of two words, where two meanings and sounds are fused together. Syllabic acronyms, on the other hand, are representative of existing words or concepts.

Acronyms - A 'spork' - StudySmarter'Spork' is an example of a portmanteau, J.W. - StudySmarter Originals

Acronyms - Key takeaways

    • An acronym is made up of the initial letters of other words and is pronounced as a word.

    • Acronyms can be divided into groups: word acronyms, syllabic acronyms, TLAs, etc.

    • Word acronyms use initials of words to form one new word (i.e., POTUS, scuba).

    • Syllabic acronyms use syllables of words instead of initials to make new words.

    • Other acronym groups combine initials with syllables or words (i.e., jpeg, sonar).

    • A recursive acronym is an acronym that refers to itself.

    • Usually, the first letter of a recursive acronym stands for the acronym itself.

Acronyms

An acronym is an abbreviation made up of the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word.

The word acronym comes from Greek (via German) and is made up of the Greek roots acr- meaning summit or tip and -onym meaning name.

ASAP, AWOL, NATO, Scuba, PIN, GIF

Final Acronyms Quiz

Question

What is an acronym?

Show answer

Answer

An acronym is an abbreviation made up of the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word.


Show question

Question

What kind of acronym is ‘scuba’?


Show answer

Answer

‘Scuba’ is a word acronym; it is also an anacronym.

Show question

Question

What is a recursive acronym?


Show answer

Answer

A recursive acronym is an acronym that refers to itself. Usually the first letter stands for the acronym itself. Example: GNU: Gnu’s Not Unix.


Show question

Question

Complete the sentence: reverse acronym is another term for … 


Show answer

Answer

Backronym.

Show question

Question

Complete the sentence: ‘You see it's like a … —there are two meanings packed up into one word.’


Show answer

Answer

Portmanteau.

Show question

Question

True or false? An anacronym is an acronym that is no longer in use.


Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

True or False? A recursive acronym is an acronym that refers to itself.


Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

What type of acronym is NaNoWriMo?


Show answer

Answer

Syllabic

Show question

Question

Complete the sentence: Syllabic acronyms use ...of words instead of .... to make new words.


Show answer

Answer

syllables; initials.


Show question

Question

 What is a backronym?


Show answer

Answer

A backronym is an acronym deliberately created for a word that isn’t an acronym, often for comic effect.


Show question

Question

A portmanteau is a ...  (There may be more than one answer).


Show answer

Answer

Blended word.

Show question

Question

The word acronym comes from the Greek roots 'acr' and 'onym', which mean what?

Show answer

Answer

summit and name 

Show question

Question

What does PIN stand for?

Show answer

Answer

Personal identification number

Show question

Question

What does ASAP stand for?

Show answer

Answer

As soon as possible

Show question

Question

What does GIF stand for?

Show answer

Answer

Graphics interchange format

Show question

Question

A backronym is also known as a what?

Show answer

Answer

apronym

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank:


A ________ acronym is an acronym that refers to itself.

Show answer

Answer

recursive 

Show question

Question

The term 'RAS syndrome' was coined by who?

Show answer

Answer

Stanley Newman

Show question

Question

What does Radar stand for?

Show answer

Answer

Radio detection and ranging

Show question

Question

What does JPEG stand for?

Show answer

Answer

Joint photographic experts group

Show question

Question

What does POTUS stand for?

Show answer

Answer

President of the United States

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank:


An acronym is an abbreviation made up of the _______ letters of other words and pronounced as a single word. 

Show answer

Answer

initial

Show question

Question

The fully written form of an acronym, initialism, or syllabic abbreviation is called what?

Show answer

Answer

Expansion

Show question

Question

The words 'macro' and 'acronym' combine to form the name of which type of acronym?

Show answer

Answer

Macronym

Show question

Question

What type of acronym is AIM?

Show answer

Answer

Macronym

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Acronyms quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.