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I have noticed that in older (usually over 30 or 40 years old) British books and newspapers, abbreviations are without exception typeset with in full stops, as is still the practice in the United States. Yet, virtually without exception, modern publications typeset all the abbreviations without full stops. So, for example, in an old text one might see:

Marshall Hall K.C. — U.K . — Walsh v. Lonsdale — James Maxwell F.R.S.

Whereas virtually all modern British publications would write:

Marshall Hall KC — UK — Walsh v Lonsdale — James Maxwell FRS

When and why did this change happen? As best I can tell, it was sometime in the 20th century, but I have yet to find details on the change in style.

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    i don't think anyone can give you a date; the trend towards lighter or 'open' punctuation is just that, a trend, whose start is not precisely recorded, and which is still ongoing. There is no Ministry of Punctuation which issued a Statutory Instrument on April 1st, 1976. Personally for 'when', I would say since the 1960s and accelerated by the widespread adoption of word-processing. As for 'why', I would point to a trend towards less 'busy' appearance of printed text, reduced typing, fewer 'rules', etc. Jan 4, 2020 at 13:21
  • Liable for closure as opinion-based (in my opinion). Jan 4, 2020 at 13:24
  • Why? That is a sociological question not a linguistic one. I could make suggestions, but they would just be opinions anyway. Doubly off-topic I'm afraid. And as for "when" — without wishing to be rude, why are you expecting others to do your research for you?
    – David
    Jan 4, 2020 at 22:36
  • I am not sure your premise is correct. To name a few: The National Rifle Association uses NRA’ without stops. I see AFC, NFL, FBI and could probably go on. I think you should check again.
    – Tuffy
    Jan 5, 2020 at 1:10
  • @Tuffy - the question specifically asks about UK/British practice, and all of your examples are, as far as I know, US abbreviations. Jan 5, 2020 at 10:05

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As Michael Harvey says, this is a trend, and indeed the American Heritage Abbreviations Dictionary says so:

Abbreviations vary widely in their style of punctuations, ... Following the contemporary trend toward less frequent use of periods, entries in The American Heritage Abbreviations Dictionary, Second Edition, are generally shown without periods, except for truncations and terms that require or almost always appear with punctuation.

This journal article from 1989 suggests that periods get dropped from abbreviations when they become commonly used as words:

The fact that a given abbreviation or acronym is spelled more often today without periods than with them suggests that it is now a more direct part of the vocabulary.

From Cannon, G. (1989). Abbreviations and Acronyms in English Word-Formation. American Speech, 64(2), 99. doi:10.2307/455038 (page 11)

Note, therefore, that this trend is not necessarily restricted to the UK!

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  • There is (or was) an expression which these days is rendered as 'A1 at Lloyds', which, of a ship insured at Lloyds of London, meant it was 'A' for hull condition and '1' for standard of fittings and trappings, that is, it was in the best possible state. I have seen an extract from the records of the US Congress (1870) that "The labor per ship of about one thousand tons classed A 1, at, Lloyds, will amount to ten dollars per ton. " Conversely, a British 1929 film was called "A.1. at Lloyds". So a date would be ridiculous. Jan 4, 2020 at 14:34
  • The question asks "why" and "when" your answer addresses neither of these points.
    – David
    Jan 4, 2020 at 22:38
  • 'Why'? The quote from the 1989 paper says why - these abbreviations have become a more direct part of the vocabulary. Jan 5, 2020 at 8:14

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