acronym (was re: uniting two old threads...)

Mark A. Mandel mamandel at LDC.UPENN.EDU
Thu Jun 15 03:07:11 UTC 2006

Way back in the ancient times (Sat, 27 May 2006 ), Larry took issue with my
terminology in comparing Merriam-Webster with OED online on "acronym":

>Hmph. Merriam-Webster is more precise on every aspect of the definition.

Well, M-W is more specific.  To be more precise implies correctness
in the higher level of specificity, and I find it counterintuitive to
lump "NATO" and "Nabisco" into the same "acronym" category, just as I
object to initialisms being lumped in with acronyms for our purposes,
even though I recognize that many speakers beyond this list do use
"acronym" in this way.  Now I concede that "the initial letters of
other words" is ambiguous or underspecified--arguably perniciously
so, which I take it is what you had in mind, since it depends on how
the distributive vs. group reading works:  one letter from each of
the "other" words or unspecified groups of one of more "letters" from
each word.  But maybe the underspecification is precisely what's
warranted here, given the difference in intuitions on whether the
"Nabisco"/"Nazi"/"Vokuhila" class do constitute acronyms.


While I can't oppose your wish for distinguishing the types, I used the word
"precise" as I learned it in the theory of measurement, where it is
distinguished from "accurate". For example, 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is a
more precise value for normal human body temperature than 98 degrees
Fahrenheit, but it is not more accurate. For that matter, 27.463 degrees
Fahrenheit is more precise than either of the previous two, even though 98
is clearly more accurate.

On the same subject, my son contributes an interesting acronym of the
Nabisco type:

srimech  /'sraj.mEk/
self-righting mechanism
in robotics, spec. in Robot Wars competitions

Google reports about 2600 hits, starting with this one:

srimech (n): Abbreviation of Self RIghting MECHanism; term used in robot
combat for devices which turns a robot back onto its wheels after it has
been flipped over by an opponent.

What I find most interesting about this acronym (largo sensu) is its
violation of English phonotactics, with initial /sr/. And it is indeed
pronounced that way by the host of the TV show Robot Wars, the Liverpudlian
Craig Charles.

-- Mark
[This text prepared with Dragon NaturallySpeaking.]

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list