acronym

noun
ac·​ro·​nym | \ ˈa-krə-ˌnim How to pronounce acronym (audio) \

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 How to pronounce acronymic (audio) \ adjective
acronymically \ -​mi-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce acronymically (audio) \ 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

The air-quality lawsuits were the work of a small group known in English as Environment Action Germany, which goes by the German acronym DUH, and is funded mainly by donations from Germany’s central and regional governments (and Toyota). Holman W. Jenkins, WSJ, "The Lessons of ‘Dieselgate’," 4 Jan. 2019 Scientists often come up with acronyms that serve as nicknames for studies and are shorthand for long, complicated scientific titles. Roni Caryn Rabin, New York Times, "It Was Supposed to Be an Unbiased Study of Drinking. They Wanted to Call It ‘Cheers.’," 18 June 2018 Though now a relatively obscure acronym, the WCTU had maintained significant political, social, and religious clout from the late 19th century through Prohibition. Hannah C. Griggs, The Atlantic, "Teaching Sobriety With ‘The Bottle’," 27 May 2018 Remember them with the acronym BE FAST (Balance, Eyes, Face, Arm, Speech, Terrible Headache — Call 911). Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Too young for a stroke? Think again.," 9 May 2018 Those frequenting the fitness aisle could practically file misdemeanor claims — assaulted by screaming labels (SUPER MEGA) and a blizzard of acronyms (MSM, BCAA, 5-HTP). Jancee Dunn, Allure, "Pretty Pills: How Beauty Supplements Changed the Way We View Wellness," 2 Oct. 2018 Aldana and Velasquez are respectively the former chief prosecutor and the serving head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, known by the Spanish acronym CICIG. Fox News, "3 Saudi human rights activists awarded "Alternative Nobel"," 24 Sep. 2018 There's no quick way to work through the sea of acronyms, the IUIs, and the SETs and the PGDs, that clutter your existence. Elissa Strauss, Glamour, "This Netflix Movie Perfectly Pinpoints What's So Maddening About IVF," 11 Oct. 2018 Not complicated policy wonk language or confusing acronyms. Fox News, "Ingraham: The new American left: agents of hatred," 12 Sep. 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

13 Mar 2019

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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 How to pronounce acronym (audio) \

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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More from Merriam-Webster on acronym

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with acronym

Spanish Central: Translation of acronym

Nglish: Translation of acronym for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of acronym for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about acronym

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