When did the meaning of the word “acronym” get changed? As I understand it, an acronym is an abbreviation which can be pronounced as a word. Like “scuba”, “nato” or “radar”. But many people seem to use “acronym” when they actually mean “abbreviation”. There’s already a perfectly usable word for abbreviations. It’s “abbreviation”. Why not use it?


  1. Do you have any references to back that up? The acronym finder ( quotes this definition:”An acronym is a pronounceable word formed from each of the first letters of a descriptive phrase. An acronym is actually a type of abbreviation”Merriam-Webster ( says:”a word (as NATO, radar, or snafu) formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive parts or major parts of a compound term” ( has a number of other definitions all of which mention that it is a _word_ formed from the initial letters of a phrase.The important term is _word_ which, to me, heavily implies that it should be pronounceable.The term I’ve heard for what you’re describing is “initialism”, but I admit I’ve not heard it used very often.Asking Google to “define: acronym” returns a number of contradictory definitions. If only the OED was available online for free.

  2. *From* the Concise Oxford English:acronym // n.a word, usu. pronounced as such, formed from the initial letters of other words (e.g. Ernie, laser, Nato).[Greek akron ‘end’ + onuma = onoma ‘name’]You can keep *your* Merriam-Webster!

  3. Well, the Unabridged OED, 2ED describes acronyms as “a word formed from the initial letters of other words”, and leaves it at that. All of the examples they provide are like Amvets (American Veterans’ Assn), and Nabisco (Nat’l Biscuit Company).Anything even vaguely resembling terms like NASA, CGI or HTTP are absent from the definition, but things like them are mentioned in the definition of initialism, with KLM cited as modern example.The Concise OED is of a more recent vintage. It very well could reflect that ‘initialism’ is on the way out, and ‘acronym’ is now used to describe both formations.

  4. Well, in *my* reality “NASA” is an acronym since everyone pronounces it (nah-sah) rather than rattles off the letters (en ay ess ay). Other than that I agree with you.

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