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Difference between an acronym and abbreviation?
Can a word that sounds the same as the way it is spelt be an initialism and an acronym?

With reference to this question Difference between an acronym and abbreviation?, I am getting confused in pronouncing acronyms as a separate entity or not.

When I searched on the internet, it confused me more. According to it,

Unlike an abbreviation, an acronym is usually pronounced as a word. You do not pronounce it letter by letter. The British Broadcasting Corporation is often abbreviated to BBC. We pronounce all three letters. In the case of acronyms like NATO and AIDS, we pronounce them as words.

On the contrary, PHP is Hypertext Preprocessor, a recursive acronym which is not pronounced as a word. Rather, we do say each letter separately, but it is still an acronym. So clear my confusion over it.

  • What do you mean by a recursive acronym? I can't see any sensible way of pronouncing PHP as a word. – Barrie England Dec 16 '12 at 15:33
  • @BarrieEngland Recursive acronym is also a type of acronym that refers to itself in the expression for which it stands. – Sudhir Dec 16 '12 at 15:37
  • PHP is a recursive acronym because it's currently an abbreviation of PHP Hypertext Preprocessor i.e. the P in PHP stands for PHP. Originally it stood for Personal Home Page. Another recursive acronym is GNU i.e. GNU is not Unix. – Simon Hoare Dec 16 '12 at 15:39
  • But the link I gave, it emphasis that we always pronounce an acronym as a single word. – Sudhir Dec 16 '12 at 15:42
  • @FumbleFingers PHP is reverse acronym. – Sudhir Dec 16 '12 at 15:46

A criterion for acronyms for many people is that they are pronounced as one word. However, this is not the case for all speakers and the confusion arises because of a lack of consensus on usage.

Note that recursive initialism is also used.

If you consider PHP an initialism, then you would also say it is a recursive initialism.

If you accept it as an acronym then it is appropriate to use the term "recursive acronym".

  • @ Simon Hoare: Which one is more appropriate? – Sudhir Dec 16 '12 at 15:57
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    “A criteria”? What are that? – tchrist Dec 16 '12 at 16:02
  • As with many things in English there is a lack of consensus. I would say an acronym should be pronounced as a single word but it's not a canonical answer. Right and wrong is defined by usage in English, since there is no Académie Anglaise (not that the French listen to the Académie Française any more). Usage in this case seems divided. However, it does appear that more people are in favour of it being pronounced as a single word. – Simon Hoare Dec 16 '12 at 16:02
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    I suspect that it has to do with the fact that both GNU and PHP are IT-related and there is a clear link between the two i.e. PHP typically runs on Apache servers on Linux, an operating system that has its roots in GNU and is sometimes called GNU/Linux. When PHP was first given its current meaning it was done so in a server-centric computer world that was familiar with the recursive acronym GNU. So they used "recursive acronym" by analogy to describe what PHP is in grammatical terms. – Simon Hoare Dec 16 '12 at 16:07

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