• acronym •
æ-krê-nim • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: An abbreviation created from the initial letters of words in a phrase that is pronounceable in a way unrelated to the words in the phrase, such as NATO, ASAP, scuba, sonar, snafu.
Notes: Let us begin our 'Nyms & Such series with a controversy and get it behind us. Many people have a sense that today's good word refers only to pronounceable abbreviations, even though dictionaries do not make that distinction (Cambridge and Wikipedia being the exceptions). However, we take the confusion on the part of native speakers as an indication that the meaning is legitimately shifting so that abbreviation includes unpronounceable initialisms like EST, AM, GI, TLC, and acronyms, like laser, SEATO, Nasdaq, which are pronounceable. By the way, you have your choice of adjectives: acronymic or acronymous [Í-krah-nÍ-mÍs].
In Play: While we here at Alpha Dictionary do not jump on every lexical bandwagon that passes by, we do think there is good reason behind the move to restrict today's word to pronounceable abbreviations and call unpronounceable ones initialisms or just abbreviations. To say, "Scuba is an acronym for 'self-contained underwater breathing apparatus'," tells the listener more if we used acronym in this new sense. Saying, "COD is an initialism (or just an abbreviation)," tells the listener that it is not pronounced [kahd] but by the letters: [see oh dee].
Word History: Today's good word is formed of akros "topmost" + onyma "name". As you can see, whoever created this word back in the 1940s didn't get a good semantic match with the Greek, which had no word similar in meaning to acronym. Akros is a descendant of Proto-Indo-European *ak- "sharp", a connection that probably comes from the tops of evergreen trees. It is also related to Greek acme "point" and akis "needle" (compare with Latin acus "needle", which underlies our acute and acumen). It entered Old English two ways. First, directly, as ecg "sharp side", today's edge. Second, we borrowed the Old Norse version, eggja "to goad" as our to egg (on).
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