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Are these "words" moving out of the elitist slang stage and into popular usage? It is hard for me to tell, because in the techie culture I work in they are ubiquitous. However, I've tried them out with my journalistic hat on and did not get yelled at. If the consensus is they are now acceptable usages, I'll say them more often, and "w00t" too.

In response to comments, I'll clarify the preceding paragraph. The class of word I'm talking about is acronyms that become (What do we call it?), normal words with an independent meaning. The most famous examples are OK, for which the origin may be lost, and snafu and fubar, whose origins are known by few that say them. I posit that FYI is also now a "normal" word, just a bit newer than the preceding.

The next ones on my list are BTW, LOL, and WTF, which I think are following the same process as OK and FYI, but are not so far along. How far along are they, though? I'm pretty sure I can't use them in a political speech or a grant proposal, but how about, say, a user manual, or a non-technical blog?

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Do you mean in speech as opposed to text? –  mmyers Aug 24 '10 at 22:39
Either; I believe that writing, at least in English, does not innovate in step with speech, but that it heads in the same direction. I actually hear people say BTW and LOL, which must be considered "incorrect". OTOH, AFAIK, FYI has been spoken longer than I've been around, so maybe we'll get used to all of them. –  Taldaugion Aug 24 '10 at 23:34
I've voted to close this as "not a real question" since I think it's nearly impossible to answer it because the question covers several different terms and asks for "consensus" - this isn't Wikipedia where we can try to change the facts using "consensus". –  delete Aug 25 '10 at 1:41
@Taldaugion: I have been using BTW for more than ten years. –  delete Aug 25 '10 at 7:32
So people actually say "bee-tee-double-u" (or something) instead of simply "by the way"? Strange. (Edit: apparently yes.) –  Jonik Aug 30 '10 at 0:47

4 Answers 4

In spoken English I have heard F-Y-I but not OMG, LOL, or WTF except when specifically emulating texting style or teasing someone about it.

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Ahh... 2010. I remember that year. The English language was right then. –  Tortoise Nov 6 '12 at 1:31
Four years later and I definitely hear "LOL" spoken as one word, even in Italy, and "oh-em-gee" (OMG). –  Mari-Lou A Oct 23 at 18:13

I'm curious about the reason for calling these acronyms "elitist," but a general answer to your question is

  1. yes, these acronyms are being assimilated into more general use, but
  2. no, these acronyms are not becoming words with significantly different meaning.

Regarding the reference to SNAFU, FUBAR and OK, the argument to be made is whether the original meaning, not the origins, is lost. "OK" is deceiving in that, while almost no one could state what the earliest-recorded expansion of the acronym is, we still use it in the same general meaning. The expansions of the other two can be sussed out with a bit of work, as they come from actual words rather than colloquial satire. These, too, are still used with the same general meaning, though we choose to ignore the masked vulgarity. Further, the expansion of shorter acronyms, such as FYI and BTW, will quite possibly remain in the common understanding until the words actually fall out of use.

Snafu and Fubar have assimilated further than will "FYI", "BTW" and their ilk. "FOO-bar" and "SNA-foo" can be pronounced as words. Will people actually start saying "FWEE" or "BE-twa," outside the ironic "B-T-DUB" that Tonza offers? I'm uncertain, but I have a feeling the answer is "no."

"OK," IIRC, may be in the extreme minority as it has actually been turned into the word "Okay." "LOL" is sometimes made "LOLing" or "loling" as it can actually be pronounced coherently as a word-construction, but I don't see the same fate for these other acronyms.

Regarding stacker's opinion, I don't believe this to be a difference between acronyms and abbreviations. Acronyms are built using the initial letter of all or most of the non-articles in a phrase. An abbr. is a shortened version of a word, where a number of characters are lopped off from the end (and sometimes inside) the word.

And, FYI, SCSI (Small Computer System Interface, pronounced "scuzzy") is an acronym.

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Just my personal opinion:

The difference between acronyms and abbreviation is that acronyms can be pronounced like a word and abbreviations are typically pronounced letter by letter.

Sometimes abbreviations have been extended in spoken English, like SCSI became "scasi".

Laser (origin: acronym for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation") is a good example of an acronym which has been accepted as a word. I doubt that "FYI" or "BTW" can be accepted as a word.

Whether the usage of these these abbreviations is appropriate depends on your readship.

In a user manual which is considered as a formal document you shouldn't use them at all (of course technical abbreviations would be OK).

In a non-technical blog you could probably use "BTW" and "LOL". But what's the point to use vulgar slang like "WTF"? This is rather a matter of how want to be perceived by your readers.

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Excellent point about pronunciation - "TBD" is the only common term I can think of an acronym that cannot be pronounced like a word, and it is not very common. Vulgarity is an inhibiting factor, yes, but it gets smoothed over over time. Snafu is a common American term used by people who don't know what the "F" stands for, and everybody says "screwed" without thinking of its origin. –  Taldaugion Aug 25 '10 at 7:31
@Taldaugion: The "F" in "snafu" can easily be mentally re-targeted to stand for "fouled"; in fact, that's the way many of us learned it in the first place. –  mmyers Aug 25 '10 at 12:24

I say "BTW" and "lol" but only very informally. I pronounce BTW as "B T dub" or even "B T dubs" as a joke toward the acronym itself. It's the same with "lol," I only use it to make fun of the plague of people using these words incessantly to mask their inability to effectively communicate.

I would never use these acronyms in anything mildly formal.

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