It's not an acronym...

…like NASA, which is pronounced as though it were a word, so what do you call something like NBC or FBI, which is pronounced letter by letter? It’s not really an abbreviation, either. What is it?


It’s an “initialism”.

They’re both called acronyms.

This is one of those “it depends on whom you ask” issues.

The Phil Rubens tech writing style guide (which I like a lot) uses the term “initialism” as I noted above, separate from the term “acronym”. In contrast, for example, the APA publication manual (at least, the edition I have from several years ago) just uses the term “abbreviation”. I have no doubt that other guides would use the term “acronym”.

From Mr. Webster

What’s wrong with abbreviation?

Usually abbreviations have periods: viz., e.g. :wink:

Thanks for the help, all – one of the editors in another department hit me with this as I was on my way out, and acronym just sounded wrong to me.

No no NO NO NO!

(Sorry, this is one of my pet peeves.) An acronym is pronounced like a word. “-nym” means “name.” NASA, Laser, Scuba and SMERSH all qualify. NBC, FBI and so on are initialisms, as has been pointed out. That doesn’t stop lots of people from calling them acronyma, though.

Sorry, but others disagree. Read the definition Loopus posted. They define acronym broadly enough FBI qualifies. isn’t the only source that defines acronym this way.

Oh, come on. The meanings of words are defined by people, and those meanings are not set in stone. If enough people decide that “acronym” can also refer to initialisms like “FBI,” then it does. And, as I pointed out, the meaning of “acronym” that you revile has entered into common usage enough to make it into Merriam-Webster.

One of my pet peeves is people considering word meanings to be immutable.

I’m the same way. I call “FBI” an acronym. I am familiar with the term initialism; however I just prefer to always call such cases acronyms. Language evolves.

The late television funnyman Red Skelton referred to the building where he worked as the “Cabeese.” He’d point to the sign on the top of the studio building, “CBS.”

I know that our language is a constantly morphing thing, but I like the older, narrower definition of acronym. If you can’t say it as a word, it isn’t an acronym. If you can play Humpty Dumpty with your definition, so can I.

No, it really is an abbreviation. Both acronyms and initialisms are types of abbreviations.

Yeah, the guy who asked me said he was planning to go with “abbreviation.”