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I've found this question Pronouncing acronyms in which people discuss how to pronounce acronyms, and they can be pronounced either as single letters or as a single word.

However I would like to know if they can be pronounced as a combination. For example in computer science SPOF stands for Single Point Of Failure, can it be pronounced as S.POF? Or it must be pronounced either as 'spof' or S.P.O.F.?

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3 Answers 3

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It could be pronounced /ˈesˌpɒf/ , particularly if it's to be put against Multiple Points of Failure, which could only be pronounced/ˈemˌpɒf/.

However, wordifying acronyms will generally result in as few syllables as possible, so pronouncing SPOF as /spɒf/ is what would normally be expected.

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  • I think this would like spuff.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 11, 2013 at 10:50
  • Would you rather have /spɑ:f/? I thought that a short o was written ɒ and the pronunciation varied between AmE and BrE.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Mar 11, 2013 at 10:58
  • Sure, sure, sure. I was just trying to think of a joke about spiffs whose answer could be spuff. :)
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 11, 2013 at 10:59
  • Ah. I suppose something which might currently be spiffing could have spuff last week.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Mar 11, 2013 at 11:00
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I think it depends if the letters of the acronym (depending on the first letters of the organisations or other item's name spell a reasonable word in the first place) are reasonable enough or not. As an example in my area of working in libraries, the Dewey Decimal Classification is called 'Dee Dee Cee' when using the acronym, but the Australian Library/Information Association' spells ALIA which is pronounced as Ar-lee-ar.' Many places intentionally 'make' their acronyms spell a word for this very purpose.

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A complication here is some confusion over how you define acronym. Some say that it is any string of initial letters and a synonym of initialism. Others say that an acronym is a word made of initial letters (like Nato) and it is an initialism if you pronounce each letter separately as in HTML.

This is not universal though:

Oxford Dictionaries

Definition of acronym

an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word (e.g. ASCII, NASA). Compare with initialism.

and:

Definition of initialism

an abbreviation consisting of initial letters pronounced separately (e.g. BBC). Compare with acronym.

While this seems clear enough, compare with Dictionary.com:

ac·ro·nym

1. a word formed from the initial letters or groups of letters of words in a set phrase or series of words, as Wac from Women's Army Corps, OPEC from Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or loran from long-range navigation.

but...

in·i·tial·ism 1. a name or term formed from the initial letters of a group of words and pronounced as a separate word, as NATO for North Atlantic Treaty organization; an acronym.

2. a set of initials representing a name, organization, or the like, with each letter pronounced separately, as FBI for Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Contrast this with OED:

acronym, n.

  1. A group of initial letters used as an abbreviation for a name or expression, each letter or part being pronounced separately; an initialism (such as ATM, TLS).

  2. A word formed from the initial letters of other words or (occas.) from the initial parts of syllables taken from other words, the whole being pronounced as a single word (such as NATO, RADA).

So, OED's acronym is the same as Dictionary.com's initialism. For initialism OED says:

The use of initials; a significative group of initial letters. Now spec. a group of initial letters used as an abbreviation for a name or expression, each letter or part being pronounced separately (contrasted with acronym n.).

Summary: ODO says that an acronym is a word and an initialism is letters. Dictionary.com says that an acronym is a word but an initialism can be a word or letters. OED says that an acronym is a word or letters, but an initialism can be only letters.

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  • I've also come across a stricter definition, restricting the acronym class to the few strings that are now rendered virtually universally as genuine words of lower-case letters. Thus radar and scuba would be acronyms, NATO and ISA hemi-acronyms (my term) and BBC and ATM initialisms. I think this was in a Bloomsbury publication. The US of A would be under the abbreviations umbrella. Commented Mar 11, 2013 at 13:58

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