30 July 2015


I was flipping through the The American Heritage Abbreviations Dictionary of Acronyms and Abbreviations Including Cyberspeak (go ahead and laugh) and I decided it was time to add some acronyms to the site.

An acronym is an abbreviation but not an abbreviation. It is formed from the initial components in a phrase or a word BUT pronouned as a word without periods rather than as a string of letter. Usually these components are individual letters or parts of words or names.

So the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is NATO and is pronounced nay-toe rather than as N, A, T, O. and AIDS meaning Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is a word rather than A.I.D.S.

There is some consensus but no universal standardization of various names for such abbreviations and of their orthographic styling. In English, they are much more common in the 20th century. any products and organizations deliberately create names so that the result is able to be pronounced as a word.

ASAP is pronounced A- SAP and stands for As Soon As Possible. It was often used in the military and in hospitals.

AWOL, Absent Without Official Leave, is a common acronym that has gone beyond its original military meaning. Nowadays, we use the acronym to mean that someone has gone missing without letting anyone know why and possibly without "permission."  (Not to be confused with the military abbreviation MIA for "missing in action" which is often what we mean when we say someone’s gone “AWOL.”

Sometimes acronyms go into such common usage that the original words represented by the letters are forgotten and the capitalized letters are printed in lowercase. Here are some common examples of that.

LASER - Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation - is treated as a word rather than an acronym.

RADAR = Radio Detection And Ranging.

SCUBA = Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus

SWAT = Special Weapons And Tactics, as in those SWAT teams of police, FBI or military that we see on TV and in films.

Mr. ZIP promoted the use of ZIP codes for the USPS during the 1960s and 1970s.
In the U.K. and Australia, there are postcodes and in Canada, postal codes. In the U.S., we had a zone system. I grew up in a part of New Jersey and I lived in Zone 11. Eventually, the zones were too populous to be useful for addressses and the postal service. For efficiency, a  Zone Improvement Plan was put in place as the U.S. Postal Service’s scheme for improving their mail delivery codes. Zipping the speed of mail delivery gave us Zip Codes that narrowed down the location.

Since 1963, the term ZIP, has suggested that the mail travels more efficiently, and therefore more quickly (zipping along), when senders use the code in the postal address. The basic format consists of five decimal numerical digits. An extended ZIP+4 code, introduced in 1983, includes the five digits of the ZIP code, a hyphen, and four additional digits that determine a more specific location within a given ZIP code. The USPS provides a free online lookup tool for ZIP codes at www.usps.com/zip4/.

As with many acronyms, usage rules have evolved. The term ZIP code was originally registered as a servicemark (a type of trademark) by the U.S. Postal Service, but its registration has since expired. The original USPS style for ZIP is all caps, although style sheets for some publications use sentence case or lowercase now.

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