Inventory of postings on abbreviation

Another collection of postings on  to write about, because there’s such a variety of ways in which words or other expressions can have shortened variants (in spelling or pronunciation or both), and because different sources use different terminology.

Some distinctions I’ll make here, first between abbreviations broadly understood and truncations broadly understood. Clear examples of truncations are short forms of longer phrases, in which words that appear in the longer expressions are missing in the shorter. Truncations in this sense include brief idioms like that said, informal variants like time was ‘the time was’, telegraphic variants (as in newspaper headlines), and several other things. I have a posting in preparation on some examples of truncation, but truncations are outside the domain of this posting.

That leaves abbreviations, in which the result is a short word or word-like expression. Many of these — Dr(.) for Doctor, Prof. for Professor — are orthographic short forms. I’ll call these “ordinary abbreviations”, since they’re what most people think of first under the heading abbreviation.

Then there are clippings, another type of word shortening, in which the abbreviation is both phonological and orthographic: ad, exam, chute, flu.

Finally, there are several types of what I’ll call “alphabetic abbreviations”, in which a word is formed from the initial material (usually the initial letters) in the words of some longer expression. There are two main types, and unfortunately there are two competing terminological schemes (both used in Language Log).

The terminology I have used for some time (and will continue to use) is the following:

alphabetic abbreviations: acronyms, in which a sequence of letters is pronounced as a word, using the spelling (as in NATO); and initialisms, in which the abbreviation is pronounced as a sequence of letter-names (as in FBI).

Unfortunately, Geoff Pullum’s terminology (which follows that in CGEL) is different:

initialisms (the larger category): acronyms (as above); and abbreviations (pronounced letter-name by letter-name)

There is no issue of right or wrong here; these are simply different terminological conventions, and both can be defended. In any case, you’ve been warned.

The inventory below doesn’t including passing mentions of specific abbreviations.

GP, 5/24/04: KiloGhits and MegaGhits: measuring web frequency:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000951.html
proposed abbreviations for web searches

PR, 5/24/04: Ghits – and Whits?
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000954.html
proposed abbreviations for web searches

GP, 5/25/04: Webhits on Google per gigapage: A replacement proposal:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000958.html
ordinary abbreviations: for physical units; proposed abbreviations for web searches

ML, 4/30/05: Ambiguity:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002113.html
alphabetic abbreviations: interpreting them in context

ML, 6/25/05: The ships, it shuts everything up:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002264.html
clippings of initial material (“back-end abbreviations”)

ML, 6/27/05: Bizzerk:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002269.html
clippings of initial material (“back-end abbreviations”)

BZ, 12/30/05: From Nabisco to NaNoWriMo:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002734.html
alphabetic abbreviations: blend acronyms

GP, 1/13/06: No tattoed acronym:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002760.html
alphabetic abbreviations: terminology

GP, 1/19/06: A prescriptivist rant? Get a clue:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002768.html
alphabetic abbreviations: terminology

GP, 6/28/06: There’s no battle, Morgan!:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003299.html
not clippings: till, though

ML, 8/21/06: Term for shifting plural s to the end of initialisms and acronyms?:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003484.html
alphabetic abbreviations: plurals

GP, 8/21/06: No plural shifting term:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003486.html
alphabetic abbreviations: plurals

AZ, 9/3/06: University name bulletins:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003537.html
alphabetic abbreviations in university names

AZ, 9/5/06: The the in The Ohio State University:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003548.html
with note on the abbreviation tOSU

AZ, 9/9/06: Abbreviatory oddities:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003562.html
alphabetic abbreviations: orphan abbreviations

ML, 10/20/06: Annals of self-censorship: Avoiding the F-letter:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003692.html
alphabetic abbreviations: taboo avoidance within them

ML, 4/8/07: Hed, dek, lede, graf, tk: Live with it:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/004380.html
assorted newsroom abbreviations

ML, 8/3/07: Wev:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/004781.html
clipping wev ‘whatever’

AZ, 8/25/07: Another year of taboo avoidance:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/004855.html
avoidance of effing

AZ, 9/17/07: (an)arthrous abbreviations:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/004923.html
alphabetic abbreviations: arthrousness, initialisms vs. acronyms

GP, 1/25/08: Lower-cased initialisms:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/005347.html
alphabetic abbreviations: upper/lower case in acronyms

BZ, 9/18/08: Shattering the illusions of texting:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=609
abbreviations (of many types) in, or not in, texting

AZ, 10/30/08: Periods:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=779
alphabetic abbreviations: periods

GP, 11/17/08: The WAGs back home:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=835
WAGs ‘wives and girlfriends’

ML, 12/28/08: Filled pauses and faked audio:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=956
[in AMZ comment] upper case in acronyms

GP, 2/5/09: Pakigate, Sootygate, Gollygate:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1110
clippings

BZ, 3/20/09: Oh no, it’s ngmoco:) :
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1254
alphabetic abbreviations: acronym-initialism hybrid

GP, 5/16/09: Egg blast:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1439
[in comments] various clippings

https://arnoldzwicky.wordpress.com/2009/05/18/hybrid-initial-letter-abbreviations/
alphabetic abbreviations: acronym-initialism hybrids

https://arnoldzwicky.wordpress.com/2009/05/19/coerced-acronyms/
alphabetic abbreviations: acronyms

BZ, : 6/23/09: The first proposal for “Ms.” (1901)
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1533
ordinary abbreviations: periods

https://arnoldzwicky.wordpress.com/2009/07/04/periods-and-type-size/
alphabetic abbreviations: periods

ML, 7/24/09: Write like me?
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1599
[in comments] vs., vs, v., v

GP, 7/31/09: Coming August 7:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1614
ordinary abbreviations: periods

ML, 8/3/09: Do not leave if you can help:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1626
codes [in telegraphs]

AZ, 8/4/09: Unidiomatic:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1634
clippings [mollymooly comment on clippings with –s: maths, turps, meths]

5 Responses to “Inventory of postings on abbreviation”

  1. The Ridger Says:

    In the entry posted for today in the online George Orwell’s diary, he abbreviates “government” as “gov.t”

    eg: N. Henderson has returned to Berlin with Brit. Gov.t’s reply & Parliament meets this afternoon when presumably the affair will be elucidated.

    I found that odd – the period inside the abbreviation.

  2. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To the Ridger, on George Orwell’s gov.t: I tried to sidestep the question of how ordinary (that is, orthographic) abbreviations are punctuated, since this is something of a minefield; conventions differ, alas.

    The major difference in conventions has to do with the use of periods in ordinary abbreviations: in one system, a final period signals “abbreviation”, that is, that some letter or letters are missing somewhere within a spelled word (either medially or finally); in another system, a final period signals that some letter or letters are missing at the end of a spelled word. U.S. Dr. for abbreviated Doctor, U.K. Dr (the full distribution of these orthographic variants is more complex than this, of course).

    (Some writers on these matters insist on using abbreviation only to refer to orthographic shortenings where the omitted letter or letters are word-final. These people tell us that omitting a medial letter or letters is contraction, not abbreviation, and that the two phenomena are entirely different. Here I roll my eyes.)

    Orwell’s gov.t shows the period being used in general to mark the position of an omitted letter or letters (there is historical precedent for this, though it’s not standard punctuation any more). The second scheme of period use in abbreviations above is a restricted version of this scheme.

    A further complication is that the use of an apostrophe to mark missing phonological (not just orthographic) material, as in let’s, is sometimes extended to merely orthographic abbreviations; gov’t is a surprisingly frequent spelling for abbreviated government.

  3. mollymooly Says:

    “there are two competing terminological schemes (both used in Language Log)”

    I think this should read “there are two competing terminological schemes used in Language Log”. There are still other schemes used elsewhere.

    In popular usage people use “acronym” for all of the above, and feel proud of knowing such a big word.

  4. Acronyms « Arnold Zwicky’s Blog Says:

    […] By arnoldzwicky Reader mollymooly commented on my inventory posting on […]

  5. Apostrophe in plural | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Terminological point, from this posting: […]

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