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:
proposed abbreviations for web searches

PR, 5/24/04: Ghits – and Whits?
proposed abbreviations for web searches

GP, 5/25/04: Webhits on Google per gigapage: A replacement proposal:
ordinary abbreviations: for physical units; proposed abbreviations for web searches

ML, 4/30/05: Ambiguity:
alphabetic abbreviations: interpreting them in context

ML, 6/25/05: The ships, it shuts everything up:
clippings of initial material (“back-end abbreviations”)

ML, 6/27/05: Bizzerk:
clippings of initial material (“back-end abbreviations”)

BZ, 12/30/05: From Nabisco to NaNoWriMo:
alphabetic abbreviations: blend acronyms

GP, 1/13/06: No tattoed acronym:
alphabetic abbreviations: terminology

GP, 1/19/06: A prescriptivist rant? Get a clue:
alphabetic abbreviations: terminology

GP, 6/28/06: There’s no battle, Morgan!:
not clippings: till, though

ML, 8/21/06: Term for shifting plural s to the end of initialisms and acronyms?:
alphabetic abbreviations: plurals

GP, 8/21/06: No plural shifting term:
alphabetic abbreviations: plurals

AZ, 9/3/06: University name bulletins:
alphabetic abbreviations in university names

AZ, 9/5/06: The the in The Ohio State University:
with note on the abbreviation tOSU

AZ, 9/9/06: Abbreviatory oddities:
alphabetic abbreviations: orphan abbreviations

ML, 10/20/06: Annals of self-censorship: Avoiding the F-letter:
alphabetic abbreviations: taboo avoidance within them

ML, 4/8/07: Hed, dek, lede, graf, tk: Live with it:
assorted newsroom abbreviations

ML, 8/3/07: Wev:
clipping wev ‘whatever’

AZ, 8/25/07: Another year of taboo avoidance:
avoidance of effing

AZ, 9/17/07: (an)arthrous abbreviations:
alphabetic abbreviations: arthrousness, initialisms vs. acronyms

GP, 1/25/08: Lower-cased initialisms:
alphabetic abbreviations: upper/lower case in acronyms

BZ, 9/18/08: Shattering the illusions of texting:
abbreviations (of many types) in, or not in, texting

AZ, 10/30/08: Periods:
alphabetic abbreviations: periods

GP, 11/17/08: The WAGs back home:
WAGs ‘wives and girlfriends’

ML, 12/28/08: Filled pauses and faked audio:
[in AMZ comment] upper case in acronyms

GP, 2/5/09: Pakigate, Sootygate, Gollygate:

BZ, 3/20/09: Oh no, it’s ngmoco:) :
alphabetic abbreviations: acronym-initialism hybrid

GP, 5/16/09: Egg blast:
[in comments] various clippings

Hybrid initial-letter abbreviations

alphabetic abbreviations: acronym-initialism hybrids

Coerced acronyms

alphabetic abbreviations: acronyms

BZ, : 6/23/09: The first proposal for “Ms.” (1901)
ordinary abbreviations: periods

Periods and type size

alphabetic abbreviations: periods

ML, 7/24/09: Write like me?
[in comments] vs., vs, v., v

GP, 7/31/09: Coming August 7:
ordinary abbreviations: periods

ML, 8/3/09: Do not leave if you can help:
codes [in telegraphs]

AZ, 8/4/09: Unidiomatic:
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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