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TLA is an acronym for "Three Letter Acronym". Is it also an abbreviation, since it abbreviates the original phrase?

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How do you pronounce the "acronym" TLA? – Kris Nov 26 '12 at 11:57
up vote 30 down vote accepted

An acronym (as the term is commonly used) is a term that is formed from the initial letters of some longer name and is pronounced differently than the expanded form. Examples of acronyms as the term is commonly used:

  • FBI, which stands for Federal Bureau of Investigation, but is pronounced ef-bee-I
  • NATO, which stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but is pronounced NAY-toe
  • IUPAC, which stands for International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, but is pronounced I-U-pak

An abbreviation is written differently from the expanded form but is pronounced the same. Examples:

  • Mr., which stands for mister and is pronounced mister
  • ft., which stands for feet and is pronounced feet
  • etc., which stands for et cetera and is pronounced et cetera

Whether the form is pronounced as a “word” or as letter names or as some combination of the two is a red herring. The key difference is whether the abbreviated form is pronounced differently from the expanded form.

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Splitting hairs, but - an acronym is where it is pronounced as a new word (eg Nato, Laser, Scuba) an initialism is where the letters are pronounced, (eg FBI, CIA), IUPAC is a bit of both – mgb May 22 '11 at 4:34
I put “(as the term is commonly used)” for exactly this reason—some people hold this bizarre distinction in meaning which is not supported by usage. – nohat May 22 '11 at 5:14
@mgb people holding bizarre distinction, probably not bizarre people holding distinctions, most likely not any bizarre distinction that is holding down people. – Kris Nov 26 '12 at 12:00
I know that standards were looser in the early days, but '(as the term is commonly used)' needs justifying. Indeed, I'd say this answer is incorrect. Most dictionaries (ODO, CDO, AHDEL, Collins, Farlex ...) include the 'pronounced as [if it were actually] a word' restriction in the first sense defined. Thus 'BBC' (pronounced differently from the 'British ...') fails to meet this criterion. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 19 at 1:40
I'd love to see some justification for the '(as the term is commonly used)' qualifier, too. The OED is quite clear that an acronym is pronounced: oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/acronym. I'm not convinced either way as to who is right, but I am interested in how you came to your conclusion. – Charles Roper yesterday

An acronym (sometimes called an initialism) is simply a word formed by taking letters (usually the first) of each word in a phrase to form an abbreviation. Acronyms are thus a subset of abbreviations.

Examples of acronyms: CEO (cheif executive officer), AIDS (Acquired immune deficiency syndrome), FAQ (frequently asked questions), CD-ROM (compact-disk read-only memory)

(Notice that they may be pronounced as words themselves or spelt out depending on the case.)

Examples of abbreviations that are not acronyms: Mr. (Mister), Prof. (Professor), op. (opus), mm (millimeters),

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I would dispute that an acronym is the same as an initialism, and that e.g. "CEO" is an acronym. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Initialism#Nomenclature – mmyers Oct 6 '10 at 21:20
@mmyers - Good link. Noldorin's answer is what I was leaning towards, but it is good to know it isn't as cut and dry as one may think. – Chris Dwyer Oct 6 '10 at 21:26
I agree with Noldorin’s answer because so many people fail to realize that the important thing about how acronym is commonly used is that they are pronounced differently from the thing they stand for, not whether they are pronounced as names of letters, or as a normal word, or some combination of both. – nohat Oct 6 '10 at 22:06
@mmyers, @Chris Dwyer: Indeed, they are often two different terms. However, they are very often defined (and used) in the same way, just so you're aware. :) – Noldorin Oct 7 '10 at 18:18
@nohat: Thanks. That's exactly the misconception I'm trying to shed. – Noldorin Oct 7 '10 at 18:18

An acronym is a type of abbreviation that is pronounced as a word (e.g. SCUBA, LASER).

The following article is worth a look:

The Difference Between Acronyms and Abbreviations (and Acrostics)

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protected by RegDwigнt Nov 26 '12 at 13:10

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