British style on acronyms

I use the BBC News website as my homepage and I’ve noticed that they write acronyms like Nato or Eta when most Americans would use NATO or ETA. Is this a general British style for handling acronyms or is it a particular BBC rule?

I think it’s common when the acronym has passed into common pronunciation to just spell the word as usual: scuba and laser come to mind.

Those are slightly different, in that they’ve passed beyond that stage to become standard dictionary words.

Although there’s no single ‘British style’, a common differentiation is between those abbreviations which are spelt out (‘IAEA’ or ‘HIV’, for instance) being fully capitalised, and ‘true’ acronyms where they are pronounced as a word, such as the OP’s examples. Or, to contrast with the example of HIV, ‘Aids’.

This is relatively recent, though, surely—at least I remember a time when NATO was always capitalised? I’ve noticed that some print sources have also started doing this, like The Times, if I remember correctly. I think most British people would captitalise acronyms no matter how they are spoken, and that’s certainly the style I adopt.

Interesting, I’ve been wondering about this proper casing of acronyms for about a month now. Possibly it is a style change in the Times - possibly its because I’m decreasingly unobservant.

A few days I cooked up a semi-explanation using ‘Nazi’ versus ‘NSDAP’, where pronunciation had diverged from spelling.

I quite like the distinction between ETA and Eta - quite neat.

Per “The Guardian Book of English Language” (a paperback “condensed” from Guardian Style that was included with the 28 September newspaper), section “abbreviations and acronyms”, “spell out [Nato, etc.] with initial capital” if it is pronounced as a word. The section also describes several other styles for abbreviations and acronyms. Per the paperback’s intro, “What you won’t find in this book is a list of prescriptive rules…We want the language we use to be clear, contemporary and consistent…”

Lest one feels too reassured, OALD Online has NATO and NASA.

And whereas TGBoEL has “asbo” (an “everyday word”, at least in England), OALD Online has “ASBO”. Whichever, it turns out to be “antisocial behaviour order” (suitable also for the SD?). Someone else is welcome to point out various threads on the differences between punctuation styles.

Right, but at what point did The Guardian style manual switch from the likes of NATO to Nato? Surely Guardian journalists haven’t been lowercasing acronyms since the founding of the paper (I don’t read The Guardian, so wouldn’t know, but the change on the BBC is recent enough to make the habit look ridiculous to my eye)?

From searching the BBC’s website, it seems regional sections of the news site were still using NATO as late as 2004, whilst the main site had switched to Nato by then. After 2004, all sections of the site, including regional news, seem to use Nato.

I can’t answer that directly, but I have The Times Guide To English Style And Usage here, dated from 1999, which gives essentially the same advice as that quoted by from_a_to_z from the Grauniad. So I assume that pushes it back 10 years at least.

The Times guide does include some exceptions to the general rule (MORI, IATA, RADA, RIBA, SANE, MIND, BUPA and AXA, as well as some others in individual entries), but no indication of why they are exceptions. I can see how Sane and Mind could appear confusing in a sentence, but I’m puzzled by the others. Perhaps someone just decided that they “look funny”.

Heh. That misspelling joke never fails to make me chuckle. :stuck_out_tongue:

I’ll admit it looks unusual to my American eyes. And it doesn’t seem to follow a logical rule. I can understand something like scuba, where the words that formed the acronym aren’t capitalized themselves. But NATO seems different; it you’re going to capitalize the N that stands for North, why not the A that stands for Atlantic and so on?

Because they’re treating “nato” as a word, but “nato” is a proper noun, hence must be capitalized “Nato.”

Where an organisation demonstrates a particular preference, that will often be specifically followed even if it goes against the general principles laid out in a style guide - for instance, ‘easyJet’.

A part-answer from the horse’s mouth:

I’ve got to the point where I refer to it as that as default as do the rest of my family.

Oh, of course. That’ll be it, all right. Ta.

What do they do when an acronym is sometimes pronounced “as a word” and sometimes as a sequence of letters? This is fairly rare and I don’t know any British examples, but ROTC in the US is one. It can be pronounced differently by the same person in different contexts.

How is that pronounced as a word? :confused:

Anyway, if it’s the same actual abbreviation being pronounced two different ways, I suppose they will go with the more common usage, their purpose being to communicate rather than to dictate correct style. Where there’s two different abbreviations which happen to use the same letters, one generally spelt out and the other used as a word, this can be a useful way of telling them apart. American SATs vs. British Sats is an example.

It starts with an /r/ and rhymes with “Nazi”. I suppose you could say that’s just pronouncing the first syllable “as a word” and spelling out the last letter… but anyway, that’s how it’s done.

Rot-see. I’ve seen other American military acronyms that add a vowel to make an acronym pronouncable as a word.

Explain? I see that he anagrammed it, but I don’t see the joke. What is a “Grauniad”?