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Initialisms

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Initialisms

Consider VIP, which stands for Very Important Person. Instead of saying the whole phrase, we can shorten it to three letters. Initialisms are a convenient way of giving information quickly and are popular in technology and online communication - like texting or messaging (think of LOL and OMG).

An initialism can also be made from the initial letters of brand names, for instance, the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation).

What is an initialism?

An initialism is an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of words in phrases. It is usually pronounced as individual letters (not as a word on its own).

Tip: Originally (in the 19th century), initialisms were referred to as alphabetic abbreviations, and were used by authors to conceal their identity.

What are some examples of initialism?

DVD is an initialism for Digital Video (or Versatile) Disc.

CD is an initialism for Compact Disc.

OED is an initialism for Oxford English Dictionary.

FBI is an initialism for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Initialisms are also popular in online texting:

ROFL (Rolling on Floor Laughing).

LMK (Let Me Know).

LOL (Laughing Out Loud)

ASAP (As Soon As Possible)

FYI: (For Your Information)

IRL: (In Real Life)

FB: (FaceBook)

MSG: (Message)

TTYL: (Talk To You Later)

IMO: (In My Opinion)

IMHO: (In My Humble Opinion / In My Honest Opinion)

OMG: (Oh My Gosh)

Initialism - People texting on a park bench - StudySmarter Initialisms in online texting. StudySmarter Original

Now look at the following and decide what the initialisms are:

Automated (or Automatic) Teller Machine

Be right back

HyperText Markup Language.

In everyday language, these become ATM, BRB and HTML respectively.

Terry the web designer realizes he needs money so he pops out from work to the ATM across the road. When he gets back he finds a note from a co-worker that says 'BRB'. Terry sits down and starts working on the HTML for their next project.

Acronyms - Acronyms in everyday life - StudySmarter Initialisms in everyday language. StudySmarter Original

What is the difference between an acronym and initialism?

Acronym is another quite recent word (from Greek acr- (tip, summit) and -onym meaning name). It is a different kind of abbreviation, and is made with the initial letters of a group of words and pronounced as a word on its own. For instance, NATO is the acronym for North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

RAM - Random Access Memory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Laser - Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation

Scuba - Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus

POTUS - President of the United States

PAWS - Progressive Animal Welfare Society

NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

ASAP - As Soon As Possible.

AWOL - Absent Without Official Leave (or Absent Without Leave).

IMAX - Image Maximum.

GIF - graphics interchange format

PIN - Personal Identification Number.

TIME magazine - The International Magazine of Events.

MASH - Mobile Army Surgical Hospital

An initialism, by contrast, is a set of initials representing a name, company, or group, and which cannot be spoken as words: they are spoken letter by letter.

For instance, CNN (Cable News Network) cannot be spoken as a word, nor can DVD or OMG.

Some initialisms have interesting histories; the two most often debated are 'OK' and 'SOS' (see below).

OK, OK, OK?

The initialism OK is universally understood to mean 'accepted', 'yes,' 'good,' and so on. But what do the letters really stand for?

Many theories exist based on the similarity of OK to words in other languages. Some of these theories suggest that:

  • It is a corrupted form of the Scottish phrase och aye ("oh yes").
  • It is borrowed from the Greek phrase όλα καλά (óla kalá), meaning "all good". (In Greek the abbreviated form ok Is commonly used).
  • It's a Civil War nickname for biscuits.
  • It's an abbreviation for the telegraph term Open Key.
  • It comes from the Native American Choctaw word 'okeh' for 'it is so'.

The Choctow theory was supported by US President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), who would write 'okeh' on papers he approved. This may be where the 'okay' form comes from.

The Choctow theory continued to be accepted in Webster's dictionary until the 1960s when the etymologist Allen Walker Read traced 'ok' back to a newspaper article printed in 1838 in Boston. The writer had used a humorous abbreviation 'ok' for the misspelt phrase 'orl correct' (for 'all correct'.) The editor liked the term and began to use it, then other newspapers began to use it too. 'Ok' was further popularized during the presidential election of 1840 by a politician called Martin Van Buren, who was given the nickname of "Old Kinderhook" because of his hometown of Kinderhook, NY.

(There are people today who still believe 'Old Kinderhook' is the real origin of 'ok')

Initialisms - The different origins of 'OK' - StudySmarter The possible origins of 'OK'. StudySmarter Original

SOS - save our socks?

SOS is the standard signal used in Morse code to call for help or rescue and is internationally recognized. But what does it really stand for?

The most popular explanation has been that it stands for 'Save Our Souls', followed by 'Save Our Ship'. However, neither of these apply.

In fact it was first coined in 1910 as a Morse code signal to replace the earlier signal CQD. (Originally 'CQ' was used as the general alert to another ship, followed by 'D' for danger).

SOS is easy to type out in Morse code (‧ ‧ ‧ - - - ‧ ‧ ‧) and easy to understand, even in poor conditions, so it was adopted to replace CQD.

In different contexts SOS can also stand for:

  • Struck Off Strength, a military term for any person, vessel or aircraft taken out of service.
  • Secretary of State (with a small 'o': SoS).
  • In online messaging or chat:
  • Someone over the shoulder
  • Someone special
  • Same old stuff

Initialisms - SOS signaling & texting - StudySmarter SOS is the standard call for help. StudySmarter Original

Fun Fact: The first Morse Code was devised by an American artist and inventor Samuel FB Morse during the 1830s. In 1848 German writer, musician and telegraph pioneer Friedrich Clemens Gerke simplified the system into the International Morse code used today.

Fearful Fact! " It's the new call, and it may be your last chance to send it. "

On April 15, 1912, after the luxury cruise ship RMS Titanic hit an iceberg, radio operator Jack Phillips initially sent the "CQD" signal, which was still commonly used. Harold Bride, his fellow radio operator, suggested using SOS, half-joking that it was "the new call, and it may be your last chance to send it". The mixed signals caused confusion which added to the fatal delay. Bride was rescued, but Phillips went down with the ship, still sending out the signal.

Initialism or acronym?

Here's what the Merriam & Webster dictionary has to say:

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.

( Merriam-Webster Dictionary )

There are different types of acronyms. Some are made up of syllables (eg FOREX = Foreign Exchange), others are made up of letters, and some are a mixture of both. No wonder it gets confusing! But as a rule of thumb, if you can say it as a word, the chances are that you can safely call it an acronym without getting called out by the grammar police!

If on the other hand you can only really read it out as a string of letters, it is probably an initialism.

To summarise:

Both acronyms and initialisms are examples of abbreviations.

An initialism is an abbreviation that consists of the first letter or letters of words in a phrase, such as EU (for European Union) and BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). An initialism is also called an alphabetism.

Initialisms are usually written in capital letters, without spaces or full stops. Unlike acronyms, initialisms are not spoken as a single word; they are spoken letter by letter.

Initialisms - key takeaways

  • An initialism is an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of words in phrases. It is also known as an alphabetism.
  • Initialisms are a convenient way of giving information quickly and are popular in technology and online communication (example: LOL and OMG).
  • An initialism instead is a set of initials representing a name, company, or group, and which cannot be spoken as words: they are spoken letter by letter.
  • Initialisms are usually written in capital letters, without spaces or full stops.
  • Unlike acronyms, initialisms are not spoken as one word; they are spoken letter by letter.

Frequently Asked Questions about Initialisms

An initialism is an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of words in phrases.

Examples of initialisms include ASAP (As soon as possible), OED (Oxford English Dictionary), FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation).

An acronym is an initialism that is pronounced as a word on its own; for instance, NATO is the acronym for North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Final Initialisms Quiz

Question

What is an initialism?

Show answer

Answer

An initialism is an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of words in phrases.

Show question

Question

Another word for initialism is …


Show answer

Answer

An initialism is also called an alphabetism.

Show question

Question

What is an acronym?


Show answer

Answer

An acronym is made with the initial letters of a group of words and pronounced as a word on its own

Show question

Question

What does FBI stand for?

Show answer

Answer

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Show question

Question

What does HTML stand for?

Show answer

Answer

HyperText Markup Language

Show question

Question

True or false?


An initialism is made with the initial letters of a group of words and pronounced as a word on its own.


Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

What does ASAP stand for?

Show answer

Answer

As soon as possible

Show question

Question

What does SOS stand for when signalling for help?


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Answer

Nothing; it is used because it is quick to type in Morse code and can be understood easily even in bad conditions.


Show question

Question

 What did SOS replace in Morse code for distress signals and why?


Show answer

Answer

SOS replaced CQD, because it was easier to type out and understand.

Show question

Question

Give some popular examples of initialisms in online messaging and their meaning.


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Answer

For example: LOL (Laughing Out Loud), OMG (Oh My God), ROFL (Rolling on Floor Laughing), LMK (Let Me Know) etc.

Show question

Question

What does SoS (with a small ‘o’) stand for?


Show answer

Answer

 Secretary of State.

Show question

Question

Can you think of other online text meanings for SOS?


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Answer

Someone Over Shoulder, Same Old Stuff, SomeOne Special.


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Question

Complete the following: 

An initialism can also be made from the initial letters of ... ... (BBC, FBI, CNN etc). 


Show answer

Answer

 brand names.


Show question

Question

Choose the correct ending. (There may be more than one correct answer):

Initialisms are ...

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Answer

a)a convenient way of giving information quickly.

Show question

Question

Divide the following into acronyms and initialisms:

Scuba, OED, Laser, OMG, TIME, MASH, DVD, FBI.

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Answer

Acronyms: Scuba, Laser, TIME, MASH.


Initialisms: OED, OMG, DVD, FBI.

Show question

Question

What does VIP stand for?

Show answer

Answer

Very important person

Show question

Question

What does CNN stand for?

Show answer

Answer

Cable news network

Show question

Question

What does DVD stand for?

Show answer

Answer

Digital video disk

Show question

Question

True or false?


An initialism is pronounced letter by letter.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

True or false?


An initialism is a type of abbreviation.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Initialisms are also known as what?

Show answer

Answer

Alphabetisms

Show question

Question

What does OED stand for?

Show answer

Answer

Oxford English Dictionary

Show question

Question

True or false?


Initialisms are often used in online communication.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

What does CD stand for?

Show answer

Answer

Compact disc

Show question

Question

What does FYI stand for?

Show answer

Answer

For your information

Show question

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