There is a whiteboard near me with a "Word of the day". Today's word is "G.A.R.P." Does this count as a word? Is an acronym a word?

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    Sometimes. Snafu. Foobar. Zip code. – Elliott Frisch Mar 6 '14 at 17:18
  • I believe it only qualifies as an acronym if it is used as a word. 'RADAR' is an acronym as we talk of 'radar'. But USA, or BBC are not acronyms because no one says them as though they were words. There is an extensive Wki article on acronyms which is very interesting: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – WS2 Mar 6 '14 at 17:33
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    @ElliottFrisch Fubar not foobar. The u stands for up. – David M Mar 6 '14 at 17:38
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    @David: That really depends what you want it to mean. By far the most common usage in recent decades is the "function placeholder name", correctly spelled foobar. Personally, my most common usage is for the excellent Foobar audio player more fully known as Foobar2000. – FumbleFingers Mar 6 '14 at 18:03
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    @FumbleFingers Are you sure that wasn't an attempt to shoehorn comedy into programming? – David M Mar 6 '14 at 18:17

The answer is sometimes. As Elliott points out in comments, there are many acronyms which have come to be accepted as words. In many cases the original acronym is all but forgotten. (e.g. radar, laser).

But, you can make an argument that upon their acceptance as a word, they cease to function as an acronym. This logic is similar to borrowing a word from another language. These words often change their spelling, capitalization, and usage to fit their new host language.

Most acronyms that become ersatz words are changed to follow typical conventions for capitalization. A good example is the word scuba. This is a word that comes from the acronym SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus). Note that it is perfectly acceptable to use the all lowercase spelling, and this word can become an adjective now, (e.g. scuba diver).

So, the short answer. Yes, you can treat an acronym like a word. And, if you do it for long enough, it may lose all sense of being an acronym altogether.


This depends upon your definition of "word". An acronym is an abbreviation (or an initialism) which is pronounced as a word, and if one is being paid by the word (such as a novelist would be), I'd have to say that an acronym is a word for that purpose.

What is "G.A.R.P." stand for, anyway? There was a very painful movie by that name some years ago, "The World According to Garp", except in that case it was proper name.

  • Global Association of Risk Professionals. Growth At A Reasonable Price. Generalized Axiom of Revealed Preference. I am sure you can find others, too. – GEdgar Mar 6 '14 at 17:40
  • I actually liked that movie. – David M Mar 6 '14 at 17:47
  • It really went over the top with me, @DavidM. Cut out tongues, severed genitals, and what have you. Painful. – Cyberherbalist Mar 6 '14 at 18:19
  • Nice list @GEdgar - I wonder what the OP's acronym stands for, though. – Cyberherbalist Mar 6 '14 at 18:20
  • Yeah, the movie had its hard points, but overall intelligent and well made. John Lithgow was worth the price of admission. – David M Mar 6 '14 at 18:24

Apple built in OS X Dictionary:

word: a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence and typically shown with a space on either side when written or printed.

If you look at that definition and then at the following sentence:

NASA launched a shuttle today.

Means NASA, an acronyn, is used as a word, in place of a number of words. So yes an acronym is a word.

protected by MetaEd Dec 23 '18 at 20:43

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