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Acronym definition

Acronym  (© Kaarle /

Acronym (© Kaarle /

An acronym is a word that is made up of letters, and each of those letters stand for a larger word. Examples include FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigations), CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and PR (public relations). An acronym is an abbreviation that is formed from the beginning letters of a collection of words, and the abbreviation is pronounced as its own word. The abbreviated word that is formed as a result of an acronym can be a completely new word, or it can be a word that already exists. In many cases, acronyms are used so frequently that the word they form becomes a common part of everyday language.

Some experts state that only abbreviations that form words that can be pronounced are considered acronyms, such as RADAR (an acronym that stands for Radio Detection And Ranging.) According to this school of thought, abbreviations like ETA (estimated time of arrival) are not considered acronyms because the letters do not form a word, but are rather the letters are pronounced individually. However, many disagree with this idea, stating that any abbreviation that is formed from the beginning letters of a phrase or a series of words – whether it is pronounced as a single word or not – is an acronym.

Are All Abbreviations Acronyms?

Despite the above-mentioned idea that any abbreviation that is formed from the beginning letters of a serious of words is considered an acronym, sometimes this is not always the case. Sometimes, abbreviations that use the first letter of every word in a phrase are called initialisms. While some initialisms do become acronyms because they are used so frequently and are often pronounced as words, such as ASAP (as soon as possible), abbreviations in which each individual letter is pronounced, such as A.M. (ante merdiem or before noon) and P.M. (post merdiem or after noon), are considered initalisms.

Additional Terms for Abbreviations

Abbreviations are an interesting part of vernacular, and so are their meanings and how they are used in language. As stated above, acronyms are abbreviations of a series of words or a phrase that use the initial letter of each word and form a word that can be pronounced. Initialisms, on the other hand, are abbreviations that also use the first letter of a series of words of a phrase that do not form a word that can be pronounced.

There are other types of abbreviations, too, some of which include:

  • Anacronym. Anacronyms are words acronyms that become so commonly used in language that most people do not remember what they stand for. Excellent examples of anacronyms include RADAR (Radio Detection And Ranging) and laser (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation).
  • Recursive acronym. A recursive acronym is an acronym that includes a letter that stands for one of the words that are abbreviated within the acronym. For instance, the acronym AROS stands for AROS Research Operating System, and VISA, which is an acronym that is believed to be used to describe VISA International Service Association.
  • Backronym. A backronym is an acronym that was formed first and the words that the abbreviation stands for were added after. An example of a backronym is SOS, a collection of letters that were used to issue a distress signal because they were easy to send over Morse code. After SOS was created, the phrase Save Our Ship as applied to the collection of letters.
  • Apronym. An apronym is an acronym that contains letters that spell out a word that provides meaning to the context for which it is used. BASIC is an example of an apronym, as the letters stand for the words Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, a simple form of language used in programming.

The History of Acronyms

Acronyms have long been used in various languages throughout history. In fact, the use of acronyms dates as far back to the BC (before Christ) Rome. Then, the official name of the Roman Empire was Senatus Populusque Romanus, which was commonly abbreviated as SPQR. In fact, inscriptions found on many ancient coins, stones, and artwork included abbreviations as a way to save space. Acronyms were also used by the ancient Greeks and Jews. The Hebrew language contains several acronyms that were pronounced as words.

openPR-Tip: In the English language, the use of acronyms didn’t become commonplace until the early and middle part of the 20th century. It was then that the use of acronyms became commonplace in business. For example, some of the best-known commercial examples of acronyms include Sunoco (which stands for Sun Oil Company) and Nabisco (which stands for National Biscuit Company). In fact, the process of creating and using acronyms that can be used as words is a phenomenon that is directly linked to 20th century vernacular.

Current Use and Purpose of Acronyms

In modern language, acronyms are used the same as they were throughout history. These abbreviations are used to shorten the names of organizations and businesses, as well as long words and terms that are used frequently used. The purpose of acronyms and other variations of abbreviations are to make it quicker and easier to pronounce a series of words or a phrase. For example, it’s much easier and faster to say the word “LASER” which is actually an acronym, than it is to say Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

In the 21st century, the use of acronym has become even more commonplace, thanks to the popularization of text messaging on mobile devices that are outfitted with Short Message Systems (the abbreviation for which is SMS). The reason being that SMS limits the size of messages to 160 characters and in order to fit that character limit, acronyms have been created. Some of the most common acronyms or abbreviations used in text messaging include LOL (which stands for laughing out loud), BF (which stands for boyfriend) and ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing).

Acronyms that have been derived for text messaging have become so commonplace that they are now often used in everyday language. Some linguists are highly against acronyms that are associated with text messaging, as they state that they decrease the value of the English language and reduce clarity of the spoken or written word. However, other linguists believe that acronyms that are associated with text messaging should be embraced, as language is constantly evolving in order to fit the needs of society.

Acronyms in the News

Because they make words and phrases that are commonly used easier and quicker to pronounce, the use of acronyms have become commonplace in the news. In fact, many of the news network channels use acronyms for their names.

The popular news network

  • CNN is an acronym that stands for Cable News Network,
  • as does NBC, which is an acronym for National Broadcasting Company.

Given the popularity of acronyms and how commonplace their use has become in the English language, some people believe that the word “news” is an acronym itself. In fact, in 2017, a Twitter user stated that news is an acronym that stands for “notable events, weather, and sports”.

Though it could make sense that news is an acronym that stands for the above-mentioned words, given the nature of the information that is reported on various news outlets and in newspapers, in reality, the word “news” is not an acronym. Rather, it simply stands for the word “new information”, which has been shortened to “news”.

News is supposed to describe events that occur in the world in the present or that have happened in the immediate past – hence the reason why it is called news. If the news refers to any event that occurred a long time ago, there has to be some type of information that links or anchors the event to something that happened in the present day to make it more immediate and relevant.

Whether you work in the

  • news
  • industry,
  • public relations,
  • marketing,

or any other industry, it is important to have a firm understanding of acronyms. This is because these abbreviations are so commonplace that without understanding them, you may not be able to decipher important information. Furthermore, because acronyms are so popular and used by so many people, it is important to know what they mean so that you can use them as a way to relate to other people.

With all of that being said, here is a look at some of the most popular acronyms and abbreviations that are used today. These acronyms and abbreviations listed below have been broken down into three different classifications:

  1. acronyms that are specific to networks;
  2. acronyms that are commonly used on social media;
  3. acronyms that are frequently used by social media marketers.

Acronyms that are Specific to Social Media Networks

These acronyms include the following:

Acronyms that are Commonly Used on Social Media Networks

The following acronyms are commonly used on specific social media networks, or they are used on all of them. They include:

  • DM = Direct message. DM is a function offered on Twitter. It lets users send private messages directly to other users. Direct messages can only be sent to people who are already following you. Furthermore, messages can only be received from people who you follow.
  • AMA = Ask Me Anything. It is commonly used on Reddit and it refers to Q and A (question and answer) sessions that are crowdsourced. AMA sessions can be started by anyone and the questions are voted either up or down, with only the most popular questions being answered.
  • FTW = For The Win. This acronym can be used to add excitement to a post on social media; however, it is commonly used to express sarcasm; for example, “He was late for work yet again, FTW!”
  • IMO and IMHO = In my opinion and in my honest opinion. This acronym lets it be known that something you express on social media is only an opinion and isn’t based on a fact.
  • IRL = In real life. This acronym lets users know that you are discussing a topic that has to do with real life or the real world, and not something that pertains to the internet.
  • LMK = Let me know. This acronym is written to imply that you would like a response to a question or an invitation. For example, “LMK if you are going to be coming to the party.”
  • JIC = Just in case. If you want to let someone know that they should bring something or that they might need something, you might use JIC. For example, you might say, “Bring an umbrella, JIC.
  • RT  = Retweet. If a Twitter user re-shares a Tweet that another user has shared, the Retweet button can be clicked, or RT can simply be typed before typing in @(insertusername) along with the content of the Tweet that is being re-shared.
  • MD = Modified Tweet. This acronym stands for a manual Retweet that has been edited for length. Inputting MT signifies that the wording that the original author of the Tweet wrote has been edited.
  • TBH = To be honest. This acronym signifies that someone is sharing their honest opinion. For example, someone who is sharing their honest opinion might types, “TBH, I’m not found of that restaurant.” This acronym is often associated with feedback that is negative.
  • SMH or SMDH = shaking my head or shaking my damn head. Someone would share this acronym on social media or in text when they find something extremely off-putting and they can’t find words to respond to what they heard or read.
  • YOLO = You only live once. This saying is often said before or after taking a big risk, or before or after doing something as a joke. For example, someone might say, “I jumped off of the bridge, but you YOLO.”
  • TBT = Throwback Thursday, which is a trend on social media that involves users sharing old photos or either themselves or someone else.

Acronyms Social Media Marketers Use

There are several acronyms that are social media marketers use, too. Some of the most common include:

  • API = Application Programming Interface, which is a mechanism that enables one backend system to be linked to another one.
  • CMS = Content Management System. This system is used to create or modify content, such as the content for a blog or a website.
  • CR = Conversion Rate, or the number of people who take a specific action, such as making a purchase or sharing content.
  • CTA = Call to Action, which is a written instruction that intends to prompt a specific response from a reader, such as encouraging users to read content or to click on a link.
  • CX = Customer Experience, or the relationship a current or prospective customer has with a business. CX covers every aspect of a business, from sales to customer service.
  • KPI = Key Performance Indicator, which is a metric that businesses use to determine their success.
  • ESP = Email Service Provider, which hosts email marketing services on a server, such as MailChimp, Vertical Response, and Mad Mimi.

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