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Today I was driving by a UPS truck, which for those unfamiliar is a delivery truck used by a shipping company.

By standard definition UPS could be seen as an acronym as you can pronounce it "ups" however everyone (including the company) pronounces each letter instead, much like an initialism.

So my question is, in cases like these, which is it? Does the definition of acronym merely mean that a set of letters can be easily said, or does the actual implementation of the letters change the definition? As in, if a company chooses to pronounce their name as an initialism, does it become one?

marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers meaning Sep 9 '14 at 15:54

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    The Merriam Webster Online dictionary gives as an alternate definition of acronym: an abbreviation (as FBI) formed from initial letters : INITIALISM. So in common parlance, in the US, the distinction isn't universally recognized. For what it's worth, I was sure you had made up a word when you typed "initialism". I learned something today. In America, I'd recommend sticking with acronym for what UPS calls itself. – Patrick87 Sep 9 '14 at 15:37
  • Thank you. Also for what it's worth my spell check does not recognize initialism as a valid word. – Hanna Sep 9 '14 at 15:41
  • And then there's ESSO (the former name of EXXON). It started out as Standard Oil, then SO, then ESSO. What began as an initialism morphed into a phonetic acronym. – bib Sep 9 '14 at 15:52

It is a matter of company choice (and evolution). Some companies start out by calling themselves Radio Corporation of America or General Electric. Later they add an acronym. Still later they may formally rename themselves by the acronym.

In most cases, the pronunciation follows the spelling, for example RCA. In other cases the acronym is pronounced as a word.

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    Of course, and I recognize that a company makes a choice on what to call themselves, however my question stands -- which definition applies? Does their choice supersede the definition? – Hanna Sep 9 '14 at 15:43
  • If they pronounce the abbreviation as a word "NATO", then it's an acronym. If it's pronounced as the initials "USA" then it's an initialism. After all, just about -any- initialisation can be pronounced as a word with enough vocal dexterity. – Dave M Sep 9 '14 at 15:51
  • @DaveM I agree with you........Sometimes the "acronymic history" of a word gets forgotten or nearly forgotten.....who remembers that radar stands for RAdio Detection and Ranging?? – Gary's Student Sep 9 '14 at 15:58

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