I have been taught that if you want to use an acronym or abbreviation you should write it in full the first time like this:

World Health Organisation (WHO)

But what happens if there are two or more different abbreviations which you are going to use in your text. My programming brain wants me to write the following but I am pretty sure it isn't proper English!

World Health Organisation (WHO | WHOrg)

I know my particular example is nonsense, it was just for illustrative purposes.

The actual reason I need to have multiple abbreviations is for defining mathematical symbols as well as acronyms. So an example would be:

Collision cross section (CCS, Ω)

  • 1
    You can use a comma, or or, or a tilde ~. Inside parentheses. In the following text, however, you should settle on one abbrev. and use it consistently. The message will be "one may also encounter XYZ as ZYX". Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 16:15
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    I don't get the example. Why would you want to use two different abbreviations within the same body of text? It sounds like a really bad idea to me. Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 16:16
  • Why would you ever say WHOrg? Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 16:53
  • it was just an example, my actual use is for maths, I'll add it to the question
    – Anake
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 17:08
  • 1
    As this is a matter of style, all you need to is to ensure the message is clear. The last example does that very well, in my opinion.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 17:29

3 Answers 3


If you are simply mentioning alternative identifiers, list them as you would any other itemized list of any other kind of alternative name: parenthesized or not, and separated with commas, semicolons, or conjunctions according to the style guide in use. English has no universally accepted symbol representing or while the ampersand (&) is often frowned upon outside of names.

The inline-four engine (I4, F4) is common in Japanese motorcycles.

Titanium tetrachloride (TiCl4, also known as FM) is a smokescreen agent.

Kansas City International Airport (KCI; IATA: MCI, ICAO: KMCI) was formerly a TWA hub.

California may be referred to in the sources as Cal., Calif., Ca., or CA.

There is really no good reason to invent multiple abbreviations for your own writing; choose one and stick with it.


Abbreviations, while helpful, aren't mandatory. If you're using two abbreviations in the same text, all you need to do is make sure it's clear what you're talking about.

If, for some arcane reason, you're talking about the World Honda Organization and the World Health Organization, it's acceptable to use the abbreviated form contextually as long as it's clear what you're talking about. Otherwise, you should spell it out specifically.

For instance:

The WHO said that we should be more careful when washing our hands...

This is clear you're talking about the World Health Organization, not the World Honda Organization. However:

The WHO said that the WHO's statement was worthy of ridicule...

In this case, it's necessary to expand both of them for clarity:

The World Honda Organization said that the World Health Organization's statement was worthy of ridicule...

In your particular example, it's fine to associate a mathematical symbol in parentheses. You can use that symbol where appropriate, but if you're trying to use two CCS acronyms where the reader could confuse them, spell them out exactly.


if it is the same abbrieviation, just put, 'WHO' instead of 'WHOrg', otherwise someone might think it is a spelling error of some sort. Since 'WHO' can be either World Honda Organisation or World Health Organisation, you should just write World Health Organisation, and not worry about the abbrieviation.Just to save the trouble of misunderstanding.

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