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Language Arts

Acronyms



Acronyms are a type of abbreviation that serves a variety of purposes. Abbreviations can make long terms more memorable, easier and quicker to say, and save repetition of lengthy terms. Keep reading form more information on acronyms.

Abbreviation can be done through shortening words, through initialism, in which initial letters are used and then named in order, and through acronyms, in which initial letters are used, but then pronounced as if the resulting abbreviation were an English word. Thus the abbreviation IHA used in instant messaging and email and meaning “I hate acronyms” is only funny if it is pronounced /EE hah/ - that is, as an acronym, not if it is pronounced /EYE AITCH AY/ as an initialism. To learn more about acronyms, as well as gain an introduction to some common acronyms, read on.

Common Acronyms

Acronyms are used in many fields: science, medicine, the military, government, and business. Here is a list of some common acronyms from a variety of sources, along with the phrases they stand for and their pronunciations.

Acronym

Phrase the Acronym Stands for

Pronunciation

AIDS

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome

/aydz/

ASCAP

American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers

/AHZ kahp/

AWACS

Airborne Warning And Control System

/AY wahks/

BASIC

Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code

/BAY sihk/

CAD

Computer-Aided Drafting

/kahd/

CARE

Cooperative for American Relief in Europe

/CAIR/

CD-ROM

Compact Disc Read-Only Memory

/SEE DEE rahm/

ESOP

Employee Stock Ownership Plan

/EE sohp/

HUD (varies)

department of Housing and Urban Development

H-U-D or /huhd/

laser

Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation

/LAY zehr/

MEDUSA

Multifunction Electro-Optics for Defense of US Aircraft

/mih DOO zuh/

MINX

Multimedia Information Network Exchange

/MIHNKS/

MIDI

Musical Instrument Digital Interface

/MIH dee/

NASA

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

/NAH suh/

NASDAQ

National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation System

/NAHZ dahk/

NATO

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

/NAY toe/

NESCAC

New England Small College Athletic Conference

/NEHS kahk/

NOW

National Organization for Women

/NOW/

OPEC

Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries

/OH pehk/

OSHA

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

/OH shuh/

SALT

Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty and

Strategic Arms Limitation Talks

/SOHLT/

PERL

Practical Extraction and Report Language

/PEHRL/

radar

Radio Detecting And Ranging

/RAY dahr/

RICO

Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970

/REE koh/

SCSI

Small Computer System Interface

/SKUH zee/

UNESCO

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization

/yoo NEHS koh/

UNICEF

United Nations Children's Fund (formerly called the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund)

/YOO nih sehf/

There are several points of interest about this list.

• Some of these acronyms were clearly designed to be pronounceable, as one can readily see either that the acronym is particularly meaningful in the context (like BASIC for a beginners code) or suggests that an alternative that would have been less pronounceable was avoided (like AWACS, in which the and is - unusually for a small word - included in the pronunciation: it is more usual to skip over it, as is done in forming NASA and ASCAP). Radar not only uses the initial for and, but also uses the first two letters of radio, rather than the standard one.

• At least one acronym, HUD, can be treated as an acronym or as an abbreviation.

• Several of these acronyms combine pronunciation of letters with pronunciation as a word, notably CD-ROM and NESCAC.

• Except in the case of laser and radar, which have come to be treated as English words to the extent that some people do not realize that they are created from the initials of a longer phrase, and several others, such as snafu, all acronyms are spelled with all capital letters.

• RICO drops several words from its title, as is often the case with Acts. For example, NCLB (an abbreviation, not an acronym, but a good model for the particular point I am making) stands for No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

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