acronym

noun
ac·ro·nym | \ ˈa-krə-ˌnim \

Definition of acronym 

: a word (such as NATO, radar, or laser) formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive parts or major parts of a compound term also : an abbreviation (such as FBI) formed from initial letters : initialism

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Other words from acronym

acronymic \ˌa-krə-ˈni-mik \ adjective
acronymically \-mi-k(ə-)lē \ adverb

What's the difference between an abbreviation and an acronym?

Some people are unsure of whether to call ASAP or appt abbreviations or acronyms. Both abbreviation and acronym are used to refer to a shortened form, but an acronym is a shortened form of a phrase and is usually made up of the initial letters of that phrase. For example, NATO comes from “North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” and ASAP comes from “as soon as possible.” Abbreviations, on the other hand, can be shortened forms of words or phrases, and need not necessarily be made up of the initial letters of either. ASAP and appt (for appointment) are both considered abbreviations, but only ASAP is an acronym. Acronyms are a type of abbreviation.

What is the difference between the words acronym and initialism?

Acronym is a fairly recent word, dating from the 1940s, although acronyms existed long before we gave them that name. The term was preceded in English by the word initialism, meaning an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of a phrase, and which has been in use since the late 19th century.

Some people feel strongly that acronym should only be used for terms like NATO, which is pronounced as a single word, and that initialism should be used if the individual letters are all pronounced distinctly, as with FBI. Our research shows that acronym is commonly used to refer to both types of abbreviations.

Did You Know?

Acronym was created by combining acr- ("beginning") with -onym, ("name" or "word"). You may recognize -onym in other familiar English words such as pseudonym and synonym. English speakers borrowed -onym directly from the Greek (it derives from onyma, the Greek word for "name"). Acr- is also from Greek, but it made a side trip through Middle French on its way to English.

Examples of acronym in a Sentence

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is known by the acronym “NATO.”

Recent Examples on the Web

Built in 1926 by Alcoa President Arthur Vining Davis, the town is an acronym of the American industrialist’s name. Danielle Bochove, Bloomberg.com, "Trump’s Trade War Looms Over a Canadian Town Built to Supply America," 28 June 2018 Enter proselytes in acetate eyeglasses and Rosie Pope workwear, drawn by listservs like Brooklynitos and Fort Greene Kids and BoCoCa Moms (BoCoCa being an acronym for three adjacent Brooklyn neighborhoods). Sonja Sharp, latimes.com, "At a bar in Brooklyn, would-be foster parents ponder the ethics of taking in migrant children," 27 June 2018 The acronym is never explained, but once it has been read aloud, any reader of Melville’s 1851 masterwork will know to expect a bad ending. Clea Simon, BostonGlobe.com, "In Jordy Rosenberg’s new novel, it’s a trans, trans, trans, trans world," 22 June 2018 Every financial innovation needs an acronym, and these are called SeLFIES (Standard of Living Indexed, Forward-starting Income-only Securities). The Economist, "Pension bonds are an ingenious idea for providing retirement income," 17 May 2018 But what are the extra letters at the end of the acronym? Lauren Castle, azcentral, "Arizona groups offer health, housing help to LGBT youth," 14 July 2018 The acronym is designated to reflect the comprehensive scope of clinical inquiry at Harris Health. Houston Chronicle, "Diamond Sponsor: Harris Health System gets 'INSPIREd'," 30 Apr. 2018 Most were focused on the lesbian, gay and bisexual part of the acronym, said Jeremy Goldbach, an associate professor of social work at the University of Southern California who specializes in LGBT issues. Mark Thiessen, The Seattle Times, "Anchorage voters are first in U.S. to defeat ‘bathroom bill’," 12 Apr. 2018 And the senator isn't the only person to to get caught in the confusion between the two very different groups with the same acronym. CBS News, "Americans are confusing National Restaurant Association for National Rifle Association," 8 Mar. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'acronym.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of acronym

1940, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for acronym

probably borrowed from German Akronym, Akronymon, from akr- acr- + -onym, -onymon -onym

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Last Updated

11 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for acronym

The first known use of acronym was in 1940

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More Definitions for acronym

acronym

noun

English Language Learners Definition of acronym

: a word formed from the first letters of each one of the words in a phrase

acronym

noun
ac·ro·nym | \ ˈa-krə-ˌnim \

Kids Definition of acronym

: a word formed from the first letter or letters of the words of a compound term The word “radar” is an acronym for “radio detecting and ranging.”

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