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Shortened form of a written word or phrase used in place of the whole. Abbreviations began to proliferate in the 19th century and have been prevalent since; they are employed to reduce the time required for writing or speaking, especially when referring to the myriad new organizations, bureaucratic entities, and technological products typical of industrial societies. An abbreviation can now easily become a word, either as an initialism in which the letters are pronounced individually (e.g., TV or FBI) or as an acronym in which the letters are combined into syllables (e.g., scuba, laser, or NAFTA).
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on abbreviation, visit Britannica.com.