ACRONYM, ABBREVIATION, INITIALISM, BLENDING AND THE UNKNOWN: LEARN THE DIFFERENCES
By Hassan Abdulbaqi
We are liable to interchange acronym, abbreviation and initialism if we don’t know their individual meanings. They all refer to shortening a word or sentences but they are all different. In fact, there is also a kind of shortening that has not been named as we shall see later in this article.
Acronym is a type of shortening that is formed in a way that makes it possible to pronounce the formation. AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), RADAR (Radio Detection and Ranging) and so on. The letters in this shortenings are not individually pronounced, they are rather pronounced like every other word- paper, aid, radio…etc.
Initialism is a kind of shortening where the first letter of each word is pronounced separately. HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), WHO (World Health Organization), BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), SMS (Short Message Systems) and so on. The initials are pronounced individual, in variance with acronyms, where the shortenings sound like a word.
Abbreviation was derived from brevis, a Latin word which means ‘short’, the same Latin word that can be attributed to the formation of English words like ‘brief’ and ‘brevity’. It is merely a shortened form of a word and does not involve more than word, as opposed to acronyms and initialisms. We have:
Mr. for Mister
Jnr. for Junior
St. for Saints
Dr. for Doctor
As for blending, it is simply the formation of words by bringing parts of two different words together. ‘Parts’ because the two words in question are no more in their complete forms. Examples are edutainment (education + entertainment), motel (motorist + hotel), brunch (breakfast+lunch), smog, webinar (web + seminar). The created words are called blends and they combine the meaning of the two words they are formed from.
The unknown? You may wonder if there is a kind of shortening that has not been named in English Language, but there is. That is when initialism (first letter) is joined with acronym (shortenings in form of individual words) like we have in JPEG (Joint Photographic Expert Group), MCAN (Muslim Corpers’ Association of Nigeria), MS-DOS (Microsoft disk operating system) and so on.
For this unknown type of word formation, I suggest inicronym, which is a blend of initialism and acronym. It does not only fit to the hearing but also merges the features of both shortenings, do you agree?