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I am writing a style guide at my company, and for the life of me, I can't explain why U.S. broadcasters "ABC" and "NBC" seem to need no article as a noun, while the U.K. broadcaster "BBC" always gets one. And when I think about the Australian network "ABC," my instinct tells me that an article is needed.

One difference is that the BBC is a corporation, while ABC (U.S.) and NBC are companies, but that's not part of the thought process. And by themselves, "American" and "British" are opposites again: "He is an American, but she is British." Simply considering the first word in NBC -- National -- would confuse the issue even more.

Of course "British" and "Australian" are more specific in location than "National" and "American" -- three Americas as in north, central and south -- but I naturally associate "American" as being the U.S.

Can someone please tell me what I am missing?

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The Chicago Manual of Style recommends:

Generally, if “the” is part of the name, but not absorbed by the abbreviation, use “the” as if the abbreviation were spelled out:

  • The NFL comprises thirty-one teams.
  • NFL games rarely get postponed owing to inclement weather.
  • In its ninety-two years, the NAACP has been a cornerstone of American civil liberties organizations.
  • NAACP membership is open to all who can afford it.

In other words, use “the” unless the abbreviation is used as an adjective or unless the abbreviation spelled out wouldn’t take a definite article (e.g., American Telephone and Telegraph).

In your examples:

  • “The” is part of “the British Broadcasting Corporation” and is not absorbed by the abbrevation, so it’s “the BBC.”
  • American Broadcasting Company is officially ABC, Inc., so it’s “ABC.”
  • NBC is officially NBCUniversal; no “the.”
  • The Austrialian Broadcasting Corporation is commonly referred to as “the ABC.”

It’s instructive to see how the Bureau of Land Management’s own documentation (where they are “the BLM”) demonstrates CMoS’s recommended usage.

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Thanks. I was hoping for something that could encompass any initialism, but that's my fault for asking such a narrow question with only widely known examples. My work is awash in acronyms and initialisms, and English is not my coworkers' first language. I need to give them concise rules to follow. – Jeff in Tokyo Feb 13 '12 at 2:36

I think it is because it has always been known as "the" British Broadcasting Corporation. You would hear a Brit say "the BBC was showing the FA Cup Final" or "ITV was showing the FA Cup Final" but you'd never hear "BBC was showing..." or "the ITV was showing...".

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