December 2, 2013

Case File #013.12.02: ACRONYM

Coined in 1943, the word acronym was formed by combining the Late Greek akron, meaning “tip” or “end,” and the English suffix -onym, meaning “name.” (The source of the English suffix, by the way, is the Greek onuma, which meant “name or designation” and “noun.”) Thus, an acronym is a word formed from the tips, or rather the initial letters or syllables, of each part or major part of a compound term or phrase, such as NASA from National Aeronautics and Space Administration and radar from radio detecting and ranging. But the word acronym does not apply to all such word-like abbreviations. When the letters are pronounced not as a single word but as individual units, such as with FBI (from Federal Bureau of Investigation) and CPU (from central processing unit), the term used in reference to the abbreviation is initialism.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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