Acronyms and initialisms – what’s the difference?

When I started my new job recently, I was absolutely bombarded with hundreds, nay, thousands of acronyms and initialisms. It’s been a revelation that so many could be used in such a relatively limited context, and of course I had no idea what many conversations were on about without the relevant background knowledge. But as an English teacher, what I did know was that my colleagues’ use of acronym in the oft said sentence ‘I’m sorry about all the acronyms’ was technically incorrect, for many of them weren’t acronyms, but initialisms.

So what’s the difference?

First, let’s discuss the similarities: both are abbreviations of several words, and both use the first letter of each word in the abbreviated version. But the difference is that an acronym is pronounceable as a complete new word, where as an initialism is not.

In the table below, the left column is full of acronyms, and the right with initialisms .

LASERLD (Learning Designer)
NASAKFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken)
FIFAWSL (World Surf League)
QANTASFBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation)
UNICEFWTO (World Trade Organisation)

The initialisms have to be spoken as individual letters, whereas the acronyms can be pronounced as single words.

Image result for acronyms vs initialism

This site provides a useful discussion about the differences, including the ludicrous modern acceptance that they are in fact the same thing. Arghhh!!!!

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger, and follow this blog for more English resources, and general education advice and discussions.

Author: paulgmoss

I live and breathe education. I try to teach what I know about learning. This blog represents ideas I have about education at the time of writing. I expect my ideas to change.

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