Acronyms, also known as Initialisms, are words that are formed by combining the first letters from a series of words and forming a new word. Here are a few common examples of acronyms:
- U of U
Our language is littered with acronyms. In particular, technical subjects have large numbers of acronyms.
An acronym is formed when a phrase is shortened to just its first letters. Once that usage becomes accepted in common speech and writing, the acronym itself tends to replace the original phrase. In our lifetimes, we’ve seen LOL, G2G, and other common text messaging terms come into common usage. One example that I found particular interesting was the acronym 24/7/365. As you can see from some of these examples, an acronym doesn’t necessarily use only letters and doesn’t even necessarily use the initial letter. You can also create partial acronyms like many universities do with their names (U of U). In text messaging, it is extremely common to replace entire words by a representative letter or number: U for you, R for are, 2 for to, 4 for for, and so on.
When an acronym first enters the language, it is generally capitalized and has periods after each letter. When Scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) first appeared on the market, it was written S.C.U.B.A. The next step is that the periods are generally dropped; S.C.U.B.A. became SCUBA. Then the capitalization is dropped; SCUBA to scuba. By this time, the acronym is generally forgotten and the acronym itself is a new word.
Interesting Historical Acronyms
Scuba is one of the most cited acronyms from a historical perspective, but the one I find most interesting is Ichthys. Ichthys, Classical Greek for fish, is commonly cited as one of the earliest acronyms ever. In Greek, the term is spelled ἰχθύς, which are the letters Iota Chi Theta Upsilon Sigma. The initial letters where used as an acronym for Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ, which literally translates into “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior,” and is why the symbol of a fish is commonly associated with Christianity. This acronym and its associated symbol became code words and symbols used to identify fellow Christians. There is much more to the story, but that is sufficient for our needs.
Another historical acronym is the term “posh.” Posh now means swanky, luxurious, elegant, or rich. Many believe that the term was an acronym for “Port Out, Starboard Home.” Many years ago, when people would travel back to England from India, the right or starboard side of the ship was shaded and, since air conditioning had not been invented yet, cooler than the port side. The cabins on the starboard side of the ship were higher priced and seen as more luxurious. Passengers lucky enough to afford them had the acronym “POSH” stamped on their tickets. There are other stories of the origination of POSH.
The longest acronym in the English Language as listed in Acronyms, Initialisms, and Abbreviations Dictionary is ADCOMSUBORDCOMPHIBSPAC. It means Administrative Command, Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet Subordinate Command.
The longest acronym in the world according to Guinness is NIIOMTPLABOPARMBETZHELBETRABSBOMONIMONKONOTDTEKHSTROMONT. It’s a Cyrillic term basically meaning “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 USSR.” Little Suzy May from Hupphunkin, Arkansas successfully spelled that word to capture 1st place in her 4th grade spelling bee just last week. Congratulations to Little Suzy May.