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

Keep scrolling for more

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

In a final version of the document, the acronym was removed. Eloise Blondiau, Vox, "5 trans Catholics on the Vatican’s rejection of their gender identity," 12 June 2019 The acronym can extend even further to include gender-fluid people, or those whose gender identification or expression changes, as well as a range of other identities. Lizz Schumer, Redbook, "What is Pride Month? Your Guide to the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall," 10 June 2019 Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council ordered a new election for mayor of Istanbul Monday, handing a victory to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party, known by the Turkish acronym AKP. Medeni Sungur, WSJ, "Is Erdogan Losing His Grip on Turkey?," 7 May 2019 Launching online on May 3, the new product is called N.Y.M.P.H. — an acronym for Not Your Mama's Panty Hose. Marci Robin, Allure, "Huda Beauty Debuts “Liquid Pantyhose” Body Highlighter With a Whopping 30 Percent Shimmer," 28 Apr. 2019 Intel is hot on TI's heels with the new PXA800F, a clumsy acronym for a very smart brain that builds the phone's communications, memory, and processing functions into a single chip. Elle Decor Staff, ELLE Decor, "Cell Mates," 5 July 2012 That's a lot of acronyms for a town with only 75,000 people and only 6 percent of them African-Americans. Rochelle Riley, Detroit Free Press, "Detective fights racism in suburb where shots were fired at black kid," 10 June 2018 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

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about acronym

Listen to Our Podcast about acronym

Statistics for acronym

Last Updated

19 Jun 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for acronym

The first known use of acronym was in 1940

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

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.”

Keep scrolling for more

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

Comments on acronym

What made you want to look up acronym? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

showing courage and determination

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words for Summer: A Quiz

  • a closeup of a sunflower
  • Which of the following words means “of or relating to summer”?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

TAKE THE QUIZ
Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!