If U.N. is the acronym of United Nations, then United Nations is the what of U.N.? Is there an opposite of acronym?

  • United Nations is an expansion of U.N.
  • United Nations is an expanded form or full form of U.N.

I say "an" because U.N. can represent things other than "United Nations."

I think more commonly we would say

  • United Nations is U.N. spelled out.
  • United Nations is what U.N. stands for.

Merriam-Webster defines acronym as "a word formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive parts or major parts of a compound term (as anzac, radar, snafu)."

Strictly speaking, U.N. is an initialism:

initialism, noun: An abbreviation consisting of the first letter or letters of words in a phrase (for example, IRS for Internal Revenue Service), syllables or components of a word (TNT for trinitrotoluene), or a combination of words and syllables (ESP for extrasensory perception) and pronounced by spelling out the letters one by one rather than as a solid word. [AHED]

So what the opposite of an initialism is depends on what it was formed from in the first place.

Since U.N. was formed from a name, saying "United Nations is the full name of the U.N." is probably the proper thing to do.

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    did you not notice the rest of the Merriam-Webster definition for acronym, which says "an abbreviation (as FBI) formed from initial letters"? – nohat Dec 27 '11 at 19:07
  • @nohat My edition of Merriam-Webster Unabridged does not; its definition of initialism does say "an acronym formed from initial letters ; especially : one (as RPG) that is pronounced as separate letters" – Gnawme Dec 27 '11 at 19:36
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    @RandomIdeaEnglish Interesting. In Ch. 10.2, the Chicago Manual of Style does distinguish between acronyms, initialisms, and contractions as being different types of abbreviations. Odd that the terms are not in your dictionaries. Which, BTW, does not invalidate the conclusion of my answer. – Gnawme Dec 27 '11 at 20:07
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    I was always taught that acronyms are words formed from initials, and MW is the only source that I've ever seen that doesn't define them that way. – Matt Hamilton Dec 27 '11 at 23:47
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    @Gnawme Don't get me wrong - I was agreeing with you. I was just pointing out that those commenters who are using MW as a reference to argue that constructs like "U.N." are acronyms might need to find another source. – Matt Hamilton Dec 28 '11 at 2:05

You can say that United Nations is the full form of U.N.


The definition for backronym in the Oxford US Dictionary online sheds some light on the antonym for acronym:

a fanciful expansion of an existing acronym or word, such as “port out, starboard home” for posh.

Notice that it is "a fanciful expansion". This seems to indicate that the antonym for acronym is expansion, based on backronym's definition in the Oxford US Dictionary online as a fanciful antonym of acronym.


macronym: the expansion of an acronym

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    Welcome to EL&U! I think this is a reasonably clever and catchy coinage, but (1) can you provide any citations, or did you come up with this yourself? and (2) it's already been taken for another meaning. – John Y Jul 3 '13 at 2:46

protected by tchrist Aug 13 '14 at 14:39

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