Though we English speakers started dabbling in abbreviating in the1500s, we were mostly happy with full-length words until the 1900s. Since then, we’ve gone wild — way beyond our first dabblings. Now, we abbreviate in myriad ways. We initialize. We employ acronyms & backronyms — even syllable acronyms. And of course, we continue to abbreviate things in the manner started back in the 1500s, truncating.
Abbreviate means to shorten, so all the examples in the post are abbreviations. The abbreviating we typically think of is actually called truncating. Examples include admin. (administration), illustr. (illustrated), N.Z. (New Zealand), wks. (works), & Hab. (the book of Habbakuk). Traditionally, an abbreviation ends in a period. In the last decade or so, that terminal period has been evaporating.
Many of us use the word acronym to refer to a practice officially known as initializing. FBI, CIA, UK, & POW fit in this category. Since 1957, an initialization is defined as a word formed from the first letters of other words, pronounced as those letters. From 1907 to 1957, words formed in this manner were called alphabetic abbreviations.
An acronym, on the other hand, is a word formed from the first letters of other words, pronounced as though it is a word. Examples include GIF (graphics interchange format), scuba (self contained underwater breathing apparatus), The zip in zip code (zone improvement plan), kiss (keep it simple, stupid), & hundreds more.
Some words appear to be acronyms, but were strategically constructed. The coiners of these words worked backward, starting with their goal word, & finding “source” words to add up to that goal word. Words constructed in this manner are called backronyms (or bacronyms). The computer language BASIC was created from the words Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. SOS was a speedy thing to enter in Morse code during emergencies; after the fact, it came to mean save our ship. The term USA PATRIOT Act was created by stringing together the words Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. The letters forming START were assembled from STrategic Arms Reduction Treaty. BING was manufactured from the words Because It’s Not Google.
Then there are words we wish were backronyms/acronyms: some sailors have claimed NAVY actually stands for Never Again Volunteer Yourself, motorists claim FIAT stands for Fix It Again, Tony, & FORD stands for Found On Road Dead.
We also create syllable acronyms (also known as syllabic abbreviations) with words like FedEx (Federal Express). Some others include INTERPOL (International Police), COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program), HOCO (homecoming), NABISCO (National Biscuit Company), NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), SoHo (New York Neighborhood South of Houston), & WeHo (West Hollywood).
Life seems to speed up every day, & language seems to reflect that. Compelled to comment? Please do (I apologize in advance that I won't be able to reply, as some technical glitch is blocking me from commenting on my own blog -- life's funny).