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Term Definition

Acronyms are abbreviations for complete phrases, sentences or words. A commonly used acronym is PEMDAS, which is a mathematical acronym for order of operations.

Defining acronym

Have you ever wondered what corporate names like AT&T, BMW, EMI, and QVC actually mean? 

As you can tell, each of those names is an acronym, which means an abbreviation of the initial characters in a longer name or phrase.

Acronyms serve as convenient shorthands for lengthier names with hard-to-pronounce words. In the commercial marketplace, a corporate acronym can ring with a catchiness that ultimately translates to consumer appeal. 

The corporations listed at the top have all established their brand names with the public, in part because of the succinct memorability of their acronyms. Things probably wouldn't have worked out quite the same had they opted to market themselves under their full names, which respectively spell out as American Telephone and Telegraph Corporation; Bayerische Motoren Werke (Bavarian Motor Works); Electric and Musical Industries Ltd.; and Quality, Value and Convenience. For obvious reasons, the acronym is an essential linguistics device.

Acronyms in sentences

In order to form an acronym, you simply need to combine the first letters from each word in a name or phrase. If you want, you can omit the initials of prepositions and definite articles; periods after each letter are also optional.

For instance, if three guys—Mike Techwiz, Jeff Promotions, and Chris Seedmoney—decide to start a software company named Techwiz, Promotions & Seedmoney Co., their acronym could be TPS, T.P.S., TP&S, TPSC, or several other variations.

In the business world, a host of acronyms exist as shorthand for job titles, business models, and company types. Some of the most common corporate acronyms encountered in the news media include the following:

  • CEO (chief executive officer)
  • CMO (chief marketing officer)
  • LLC (limited liability company)
  • SaaS (software as a solution)

Certain banking functions are known primarily by their acronyms, including ATM (automated teller machine) and PIN (personal identification number).

Most acronyms are spelled entirely in uppercase, though in some quarters it's been suggested that acronyms exceeding four letters should be spelled like traditional proper nouns, with only the first letter capitalized.

Popular usage

Some of the most well known acronyms are those that also work as pronounceable words, such as NATO, Nascar, and the recently-coined POTUS. Some words that started as acronyms have entered the mainstream lexicon to such an extent that their acronymous origins are virtually unknown today. Examples include scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus), laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation), and radar (radio detection and rating).

A number of popular rock bands throughout the 70s and 80s became more known by their acronyms then by their full names. Examples include ELP (Emerson Lake & Palmer), ELO (Electric Light Orchestra), BTO (Bachman Turner Overdrive), OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark), DAF (Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft), and TSOL (True Sounds of Liberty).

Long before the Internet allowed people to search trivia on the fly, English punk pioneers the Sex Pistols left listeners around the world curious about the identity of three acronyms—MPLA, UDA, IRA—mentioned in the third verse of the band's signature song: "Anarchy In the U.K." (1976).

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