Browse Definitions:
Definition

acronym

Contributor(s): John F. Kohler, Hugh de Glanville

An acronym (pronounced AK-ruh-nihm, from Greek acro- in the sense of extreme or tip and onyma or name) is an abbreviation of several words in such a way that the abbreviation itself forms a pronounceable word. The word may already exist or it can be a new word. Webster's cites snafu and radar, two terms of World War Two vintage, as examples of acronyms that were created.

According to the strictest definition of an acronym, only abbreviations that are pronounced as words qualify. So by these standards, for example, COBOL is an acronym because it's pronounced as a word but WHO (World Health Organization) is not an acronym because the letters in the abbreviation are pronounced individually. However, opinions differ on what constitutes an acronym: Merriam-Webster, for example, says that an acronym is just "a word formed from the initial letters of a multi-word name."

 

Frequently, acronyms are formed that use existing words (and sometimes the acronym is invented first and the phrase name represented is designed to fit the acronym). Here are some examples of acronyms that use existing words:

BASIC (Beginner's All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code)
NOW (National Organization for Women)
OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards)
 

Abbreviations that use the first letter of each word in a phrase are sometimes referred to as initialisms. Initialisms can be but are not always acronyms. AT&T, BT, CBS, CNN, IBM, and NBC are initialisms that are not acronyms. Many acronym lists you'll see are really lists of acronyms and initialisms or just lists of abbreviations. (Note that abbreviations include shortened words like "esp." for "especially" as well as shortened phrases.)

Summing up:

  • An abbreviation is a shortening of a word or a phrase.
  • An acronym is an abbreviation that forms a word.
  • An initialism is an abbreviation that uses the first letter of each word in the phrase (thus, some but not all initialisms are acronyms).

Furthermore:

  • An acronym so familiar that no one remembers what it stands for is called an anacronym (For example, few people know that COBOL stands for Common Business Oriented Language.)
  • An acronym in which one of the letters stands for the actual word abbreviated therein is called a recursive acronym. (For example, VISA is said to stand for VISA International Service Association.)
  • An acronym in which the short form was original and words made up to stand for it afterwards is called a backronym. (For example, SOS was originally chosen as a distress signal because it lent itself well to Morse code. Long versions, including Save Our Ship and Save our Souls, came later.)
  • An acronym whose letters spell a word meaningful in the context of the term it stands for is called an apronym. (For example, BASIC, which stands for Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, is a very simple programming language.)
This was last updated in October 2007

Continue Reading About acronym

Start the conversation

Send me notifications when other members comment.

By submitting you agree to receive email from TechTarget and its partners. If you reside outside of the United States, you consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States. Privacy

Please create a username to comment.

-ADS BY GOOGLE

File Extensions and File Formats

SearchCompliance

  • PCAOB (Public Company Accounting Oversight Board)

    The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) is a Congressionally-established nonprofit that assesses audits of public ...

  • cyborg anthropologist

    A cyborg anthropologist is an individual who studies the interaction between humans and technology, observing how technology can ...

  • RegTech

    RegTech, or regulatory technology, is a term used to describe technology that is used to help streamline the process of ...

SearchSecurity

  • email spam

    Email spam, or junk email, is unsolicited bulk messages sent through email with commercial, fraudulent or malicious intent.

  • distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack

    A distributed denial-of-service attack occurs when an attack originates from multiple computers or devices, usually from multiple...

  • application whitelisting

    Application whitelisting is the practice of identifying applications that have been deemed safe for execution and restricting all...

SearchHealthIT

  • athenahealth Inc.

    Based in Watertown, Mass., athenahealth Inc. is a leading vendor of cloud-based EHRs for small to medium-sized physician ...

  • Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare)

    The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is legislation passed in 2010 that changed how uninsured Americans enroll in and receive healthcare...

  • HIPAA Privacy Rule

    The Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information, commonly known as the HIPAA Privacy Rule, establishes ...

SearchDisasterRecovery

  • disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS)

    One approach to a strong disaster recovery plan is DRaaS, where companies offload data replication and restoration ...

  • data recovery

    Data recovery restores data that has been lost, accidentally deleted, corrupted or made inaccessible. Learn how data recovery ...

  • disaster recovery plan (DRP)

    A company's disaster recovery policy is enhanced with a documented DR plan that formulates strategies, and outlines preparation ...

SearchStorage

  • yottabyte (YB)

    A yottabyte is a measure of theoretical storage capacity and is 2 to the 80th power bytes, or, in decimal, approximately 1,000 ...

  • Kilo, mega, giga, tera, peta, exa, zetta and all that

    Kilo, mega, giga, tera, peta, exa, zetta are among the list of prefixes used to denote the quantity of something, such as a byte ...

  • brontobyte

    A brontobyte is a measure of memory or data storage that is equal to 10 to the 27th power of bytes.

SearchSolidStateStorage

  • PCIe SSD (PCIe solid-state drive)

    A PCIe SSD (PCIe solid-state drive) is a high-speed expansion card that attaches a computer to its peripherals.

  • SSD caching

    SSD caching, also known as flash caching, is the temporary storage of data on NAND flash memory chips in a solid-state drive so ...

  • NVDIMM (Non-Volatile Dual In-line Memory Module)

    An NVDIMM (non-volatile dual in-line memory module) is hybrid computer memory that retains data during a service outage.

SearchCloudStorage

  • RESTful API

    A RESTful application program interface breaks down a transaction to create a series of small modules, each of which addresses an...

  • cloud storage infrastructure

    Cloud storage infrastructure is the hardware and software framework that supports the computing requirements of a private or ...

  • Zadara VPSA and ZIOS

    Zadara Storage provides block, file or object storage with varying levels of compute and capacity through its ZIOS and VPSA ...

Close