On the orphan initialism front

From Roger Klorese, the news that the alphabetic abbreviation PFLAG no longer stands for anything. From the PFLAG website:

The acronym PFLAG, pronounced “P-FLAG” /ˈpiːflæɡ/, originally stood for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, but in 2013 the organization switched to using only the acronym to be more inclusive of all in the LGBT community.

That is, PFLAG has become an orphan initialism, unmoored from its initialistic source.

(Roger is not particularly happy with a name that sounds like urinating on the flag.)

As I’ve noted before, there’s competing terminology in the world of alphabetic abbreviations. Some people use the term acronym to cover all the types, whether the abbreviation is pronounced as a sequence of letter names (MIT pronounced /ˈɛm ˈaj ˈti/) or as a whole word on its own (OPEC pronounced /ˈopɛk/), while others distinguish the two types, with the first labeled as initialism, the second as acronym (this is my preferred usage).

(PFLAG is partly initialistic and partly acronymic; I’ll group it with the fully initialistic abbreviations.)

Organizations or institutions with initialistic names sometimes decide to “orphan” their names, to erase the historical associations of the letters: Texas A&M, SRI International and others in a Language Log posting of mine; and YMCA in a recent posting on this blog. And now PFLAG.

One Response to “On the orphan initialism front”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    When I were a lad, I understood the word “acronym” to refer to a set of initials that not only could be pronounced, but formed an already-existing word, such as CARE.

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