Every acronym is an abbreviation, but is every abbreviation an acronym? I just read something in which 'SNBR' was referred to as an acronym. 'SNBR' abbreviates the trendy phrase 'spiritual but not religious.' The phrase is foolish despite its currency, but that is not my present topic.
Call me pedantic, but 'SNBR' is so unlike 'laser,' 'sonar, 'radar,' 'Gestapo,' 'Stasi,' NASA,' and 'NATO,' that it ought not be referred to as an acronym. Call it an initialism. Think of it as a species of the genus, abbreviation, alongside acronyms and truncations.
What is the difference between an acronym and an initialism? Perhaps this: An acronym can be pronounced as a a word, whereas an initialism cannot be pronounced as a word, but only as a list of letters. Consider 'BBC' which abbreviates 'British Broadcasting Company.' One can pronounce, sequentially, the individual letters as Bee-Bee-Cee and thereby communicate something, but the sound you get from pronouncing 'BBC' as a word won't communicate anything except to yourself and your cat. Same goes for 'HTML,' the standard abbreviation for 'hyper text markup language.'
'App' is a truncation, most commonly of 'application' in the sense of 'computer program.' But just last night I saw a TV commercial in which 'app' was used as a truncation of 'appetizer.' I was led to believe that Appleby's serves up great 'apps.'
Acronyms and truncations are both pronounceable as words. What then is the difference between the two especially since acronyms involve truncations of words? For example, the acronym Gestapo derives from the phrase Geheime Staatspolizei which is composed of two words which are then treated as three words each of which is truncated down to its initial two or three letters. Thus: Ge-sta-po.
Perhaps we can say that a truncation involves the shortening of a single word whereas an acronym involves the shortening of two or more words.
'Arizona State University' is abbreviated as 'ASU.' Initialism or acronym? I said above that an initialism cannot be pronounced as a word. But 'ASU' can be so pronounced, and I do sometimes so pronounce it when I am talking to people associated with the university, e.g. 'I'll meet you at Ah-Soo by the fons philosophorum." (As I have said or written to Kid Nemesis.)
So what do we say about this example?
I got some help from this page.
Does any of this matter? Well, it matters if language matters, and it does.
Filed under: Language Matters