Acronym or abbreviation?

It’s all in the pronunciation, folks! 

It seems, in recent years, that most of the population has ceased believing in the existence of abbreviations. You rarely hear anyone refer to an abbreviation anymore; it’s all “acronyms” now. Too bad, because there is a distinct and simple difference.

The word “acronym” has that little “nym” at the end, and that means name. An acronym is simply an abbreviation that creates a pronounceable name or word. If the abbreviation doesn’t actually form a word that can be pronounced, it’s not an acronym. Here are some examples:

  • FBI is an abbreviation for Federal Bureau of Investigation. Those three letters do not yield a pronounceable word. This is not an acronym; it’s simply an abbreviation.
  • FEMA is an acronym. Yes, it’s an abbreviation for Federal Emergency Management Agency, but it’s also an acronym because you can pronounce it. No one calls the agency “F-E-M-A.” We all call it “Feema.” That’s an acronym.

All acronyms are abbreviations. All abbreviations are not necessarily acronyms.

Here are a few more examples, so you can tell the difference:

  • CONUS is the abbreviation for “Continental United States.” It’s a pronounceable word, so it’s also an acronym.
  • POTUS (president of the United States) and SCOTUS (supreme court of the United States) are both abbreviations and acronyms.
  • DMV is the abbreviation for Department of Motor Vehicles. It is not a pronounceable word; it is not an acronym.
  • “Dr.” is the abbreviation for “doctor.” It’s not an acronym. Similarly “Sr.” is the abbreviation for “senior” but not an acronym.

So, what do you think? Does that make sense? Does it matter? Maybe only to me - I just hate to see the erosion of our language, one little forgotten distinction at a time.