English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

One definition of an acronym is:

An abbreviation formed by (usually initial) letters taken from a word or series of words, that is itself pronounced as a word, such as RAM, radar, or scuba; sometimes contrasted with initialism.

An initialism is:

A term formed from the initial letter or letters of several words or parts of words, but which is itself pronounced letter by letter.

If I pronounce an initialism, as a word, and not just as letters, does that 'make' it an acronym?

share|improve this question
Please provide links or sources for your definitions. – JLG Oct 19 '12 at 0:04
Have you read this article?: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acronym_and_initialism – JLG Oct 19 '12 at 0:09
@JLG related: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – nohat Oct 19 '12 at 1:24
up vote 2 down vote accepted

If you look at the third definition of acronym, it directly addresses your question. BBC is an acronym, regardless of whether it is pronounced as letters or as a word. RAM (random access memory) is an acronym whether it is pronounced ram or are-aye-em.


There is a controversy as to whether initialisms are a subset of acronyms or a distinct class of terms.

Several dictionaries seem to restrict acronyms to those shortened forms that can be pronounced as a word. See, e.g., Oxford, Collins, and American Heritage.

Others include initialisms as a form of acronym. See, e.g., Merriam-Webster and Websters New World. Wikipedia has an article on acrnoyms which notes a difference of opinion as to whether initialisms should be included, and then proceeds within the article to include them. It also notes that there are a number of forms that do not neatly fit into either category, such as JPEG (pronounced jay-peg) and AAA (usually pronounced Triple A).

There is also the interesting evolution of an acronym found in the abbreviation for Standard Oil. It began with SO, a clear initialism, which them morphed to ESSO, a classic acronym. (The company has since become EXXON which does not seem to stand for anthing.

share|improve this answer
If BBC is an acronym, what would you say was an initialism? – Roaring Fish Oct 19 '12 at 5:31
I'd have problems pronouncing BBC as an acronym, unless you mean "Beeb". – Mr Lister Oct 19 '12 at 7:09
@RoaringFish BBC is both. See this discussion. Initialisms form a subset of acronyms which are often considered to include terms that are made up with more than just initial letters, such as Interpol (INTERnational POlice)and initial letter terms that are pronounced as words, such as scuba (self contained underwater breathing apparatus) as well as pure initialisms, such as BBC. – bib Oct 19 '12 at 12:18
@bib ~ from your own link: "The term acronym is the name for a word from the first letters of each word in a series of words (such as sonar, created from sound navigation and ranging)." i find it difficultbto pronounce BBC as a word. – Roaring Fish Oct 19 '12 at 16:04
BBC, pronounced /biːbiːˈsiː/. How is that not a word? – nohat Oct 25 '12 at 6:45

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.