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I've noticed that some people in my office spell out "data import tool" as D. I. T., whereas others will say "dit" (like "ditty"). Is trying to pronounce an acronym as a word, as opposed to spelling it out, ever correct?

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I don't know whether there are any rules about correctness, but in my experience, acronyms are often chosen specifically so that they result in pronounceable 'words'. –  stff00 Jun 10 '11 at 13:59
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Don't know about English, in my language we pronounce acronyms the way they sound better. SED (EDM in English) we pronounce very similar to the word sad, but MGU (MSU in English) we read as M.G.U. I'd imagine something like this is applies to English language too –  Philoto Jun 10 '11 at 14:18
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I'm not sure there's a pattern to it, by acronym or by person. I find that I say "see-quel" (SQL) but "U-R-L"; others do the opposite. Sometimes an acronym gets promoted into the language as a word (nobody spells out RADAR any more), but other than that I think it's pretty inconsistent. –  Monica Cellio Jun 10 '11 at 14:23
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Define "correct". English doesn't have a central defining authority for correctness, just a bunch of grammatical rules that try to describe what people actually do. In this case, as you've observed, people do different things. As long as they communicate successfully, there's no reason to call either way "incorrect". –  user1579 Jun 10 '11 at 15:16

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

All I could find on pronouncing acronyms and initialisms is this list.

The list distinguishes between acronyms and initialisms. Basically, acronyms are abbreviations that are pronounced as a single word and initialisms are an abbreviations, that are pronounced as a series of letters From this wiki article.

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+1 I would agree. I think whether "DIT" is said as a word (an acronym) or as the individual letters (an initialism) is down to common usage. IMO it could be both. Either way, "DIT" is an abbreviation. –  w3d Jun 10 '11 at 14:56
    
+1 for getting the same link posted ahead of me :) –  Sri Atluru Jun 10 '11 at 15:13

It is just a matter of preference.

There is a list of acronyms and initialisms available on wikipedia here - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_acronyms_and_initialisms

You can observe that acronyms and initialisms are marked out based on general usage.

However, there are some examples like DITY (unfortunately, DIT is not on the list) or ROD or URL or RAP and many more which are categorized as either an acronym or an initialism.

Hence, it is up to the group to decide whether to use DIT as an acronym, an initialism or both based on the convenience and succinctness required.

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+1 for finding this useful link :P –  Philoto Jun 10 '11 at 15:15

Acronyms are only acronyms if they can be pronounced as a single word i.e. NATO or sonar, or radar.

Abbreviations differ in that they are pronounced separately, as in FBI, or ATM or HIV, etc.

So your question is:

Is trying to pronounce an acronym as a word, as opposed to spelling it out, ever correct?

Acronyms should be pronounced as a word, not spelled out. The thin blue line, is , when is an abbreviation an acronym?

But otherwise, acronyms are pronounced as a word.

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I think you mean "initialism". Abbreviations are things like "Dr." for Doctor. –  David Schwartz Sep 14 '11 at 8:31

The difference here is between an acronym, which is an abbreviation using the first one or to letters of a longer term pronounced as a word, and an initialism, where a similar set of letters is spelled out.

Whether an abbreviated term becomes an initialism or an acronym is totally dependent on common usage, which is in turn dependent on the culture, which can be as localized as two people using it in conversation. As long a the two people talking understand the term as it's being said, they're communicating effectively and there's nothing "wrong" about how they say it.

Abbreviations are generally pronounced as acronyms whenever the term has been designed to mimic a dictionary word (e.g. D.A.R.E. - Drug Abuse Resistance Education), or when there exists a relatively common, logical pronunciation for the abbreviation, e.g. SQL (pronounced like "sequel"). These are the ambiguious ones, as most of then started as jargon and passed into relatively common usage. For instance, the layout files created when programming using the Microsoft Windows Presentation Foundation are known as "XAML" files. Those "in the know" generally pronounce the term "zhamul"/"shamul", but this pronunciation must be learned and is thus restricted to those who use the technology, making it jargon.

Abbreviations are usually pronounced as initialisms either when an acronym is not well known in a group (XAML or SQL often are spelled out the first few times they're used), and/or when there's no good way to turn it into a word. A lot of governmental agencies and military units/divisions are known by initialisms; FBI, ATF, USAF, DHS, SAS, OSS. Executive positions are also commonly spelled out as initialisms: CEO, COO, CFO, CIO, etc.

As you can see, no hard and fast rules other than what sounds right. Military abbreviations are a prime example: the HMMW-V is pronounced "Hum-vee", and top-brass designations like CINCLANTFLT and CINCPACFLT are pronounced as words, but there's nust no good way to pronounce USMC than to spell it out (or just say "the Corps" or "the Marines").

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