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Our sister encyclopedia, Encarta, informs us that "There are four main kinds of abbreviations: shortenings, contractions, initialisms, and acronyms." [1]

Using the initial letters of each word

So-called Initialisms are a form of abbreviation in which a phrase is abbreviated to the first letter of each word in the phrase; familiar examples include

Initialisms are distinguished from acronyms in that initialisms are pronounced as individual letters, while acronyms are pronounced as if the letters spelled out a word (which they may in some cases do). As Encarta says, "Acronyms are initialisms that have become words in their own right." [1] The use of the word "acronym" to include initialisms is increasingly accepted.

Both initialisms and acronyms are defined by custom; sometimes they do not strictly follow the rule of using every initial, or only the first initial. Unimportant words may be omitted. In the case of acronyms a certain amount of creativity may be employed.

  • FBI, for Federal Bureau of Investigation'
  • AFL-CIO, for American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations

Examples of acronyms include:

  • USA PATRIOT Act, for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act
  • TULIP, for Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints (the core tenets of Calvinism).
  • Roy G. Biv, for Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet (the conventional description of the colors in the spectrum).


  1. 1.0 1.1 [1]

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