MLP: Taken to the acronym woodshed

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Let it not be said that Mrs. Language Person, that Snitty Old Biddy, is infallible. Mais non; in fact, learn she did from one Mr. Intern Person (with initials MG). What lovely irony; he who endeavored to learn did also teach.

Wait — what? MLP endured correction, you ask incredulously? Why, yes, Dear Reader; and she dares say so will you (fallible she may be, yet haughty nonetheless).

Case in point: The acronym.

Were she to say, “FBI is an acronym” (to which, sheepishly, she admits guilt), your MLP would be incorrect. Now admit it, Readers: You’ve done it too. MLP is in good company, even among fellow would-be linguists and language-lovers.

As Mr. Intern Person gleefully pointed out in his oh-so-quiet way, an acronym is only thus if it is also a word. “FBI” is an initialism.

A what, you say? (Her exact reply to Mr. Intern Person: “A WHAT?”)

An initialism is as it sounds — when one pronounces the initials eff-bee-eye. CIA. FAA. NBA and NBC.

An acronym, that smug intern deigned to explain (your MLP can be so resentful), is a made-up word formed by the initials of other words. It has therefore either become, or is pronounced as, a word. Radar (originally “RADAR” — radio detecting and ranging), laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation), scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus). NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Alliance) is a more recent and slightly murkier example; not exactly an everyday word, but pronounced as one.

Acronyms and initialisms are types of abbreviation, another occasionally misunderstood word, poor wee thing. An abbreviation is, obviously, an abbreviated — i.e., shortened — form of one or more words. Both FBI and radar are shortened forms of longer word phrases (unless you’re a MASH fan, in which case Radar is MLP’s favorite character. Bravo, Mr. Burghoff!). Another example of abbreviation is the shortening of one word, such as Mont. for Montana, and etc. for etcetera. (not “ect.,” please; MLP will faint).

So, your MLP asks with her childish schadenfreude, did you know? Hmm?

•••

Mrs. Language Person and Sholeh Patrick are columnists for the Hagadone News Network quite undone by one young intern. Contact them at Sholeh@cdapress.com.

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