Coordinate initialisms

It started with an ADS-L posting by Benjamin Barrett about the initialism T&A, which (he learned) abbreviates tits and ass but can also denote (from a Wiktionary entry) “scantily-clad women, or entertainment featuring scantily clad women” (that is, a display of tits and ass).


[The T & A Team is a classic porn film from 1984, with the slogan “Using Their T & A to Make the World a Better Place!”. It’s a take-off on the tv series The A-Team (1983-87).]

Three observations:

(1) even when the abbreviatum (the expression that is abbreviated) is not a proper name, letters in its initialism are normally all uppercase: IED, not ied, for improvised explosive deviceT&A, not t&a

(2) and in the abbreviatum normally appears as & in its initialism (just like & in the abbreviatum): B&E for breaking and entering (the legal offense); T&A

(3) an initialism is an expression on its own, historically derived from its abbreviatum but capable of diverging in a number of ways from it, in particular, semantically (as in the case of T&A); an initialism might be more specific semantically than its abbreviatum (B&D is not just bondage and discipline, but a structured sexual practice involving bondage and discipline)

Now some examples of coordinate initialisms (CIs), those with & in them. These are almost all two-part expressions, of the form x&y, where x and y are letters of the alphabet. Longer abbreviata tend to have the coordinator suppressed, as here:

Usual, customary and reasonable (UCR) was and is an American method of generating health care prices, described as “more or less whatever doctors decided to charge.” (Wikipedia link) [not UC&R]

BBDO is a worldwide advertising agency network, with its headquarters in New York City. The agency began in 1891 with George Batten’s Batten Company, and later in 1928, through a merger of BDO (Barton, Durstine & Osborn) and Batten Co. the agency became BBDO. (Wikipedia link) [not BBD&O]

Proper-name CIs are incredibly common, in part because of the vast (and open-ended) collection of names for establishments and companies of this form, with two names for people (family names usually, but sometimes personal names) coordinated. The logo for the local firm Bang & Olufsen, a high-end electronics company:


And the Sperry & Hutchinson Co., the green stamp people (the company was sold in 1981):

[This content has been removed due to copyright infringement.

Image #3 has been removed in response to e-mail of 4/9/21, saying, in part:

My name is Gary Matthew Gilmore. Your website is displaying, or a website that your company is hosting, is infringing on a copyright-protected image that I am the legal rights owner of. This image was copied onto your servers without my permission.

The original image, titled ‘S&H Green Stamps’, to which I own the exclusive copyrights, can be found at:

[The image is of the “We Give S&H GREEN STAMPS” logo used on advertising signs for the company for some years. Many other copies can be viewed via a browser search.]

This email constitutes an official notification of the infringement and my legal request that you immediately remove or disable access to the infringing material, and ensure that the user refrains from any unauthorized use or sharing of my copyrighted materials in the future.

Additionally, I request that the removed link state the following: “This content has been removed due to copyright infringement.”

So done, above.]

And the Liggett & Myers (tobacco) company (now the Liggett Group), which gave its initials to one of its products:


Then in the railroad world, there’s the B&O (the Baltimore & Ohio) and the C&O (the Chesapeake and Ohio), both now absorbed in CSX Transportation.

There’s another C&O (Chesapeake & Ohio), the canal, now just a historical entity:


Then there’s A&E, the Arts & Entertainment Network. And D&D, the game Dungeons & Dragons:


(These last two are proper names made by coordinating common nouns, rather than, as in #2-4, coordinations of proper names.)

Common-noun CIs. We’ve already seen T&A, B&E, and B&D. A small further sampling, essentially random, meant to be illustrative rather than exhaustive:

R&R: rest and recreation (originally in a military setting, though sometimes now extended to other contexts)

D&C: dilation and curettage (a surgical procedure)

P&T: promotion and tenure (the concerns of a faculty committee devoted to them and of certain faculty meetings)

Q&A: question and answer or questions and answers (involving an event, or text, devoted to taking questions and answering them)

This last occurs most often as the first element in compounds like Q&A session and Q&A column. But at least the first of these can be truncated, in examples like:

There will be a Q&A after the lecture.

During the Q&A, several audience members seemed distressed.

An interesting wrinkle here is that the truncation is entirely comfortable for the initialism, but not for the abbreviatum:

There will be a question and answer session after the lecture. /??There will be a question and answer after the lecture.

During the questions and answers session, several audience members seemed distressed. / ??During the questions and answers, several audience members seemed distressed.

That is, the initialism and its abbreviatum don’t have quite the same syntax. Another way in which initialisms and their abbreviata are not simply interchangeable.

4 Responses to “Coordinate initialisms”

  1. mikepope Says:

    Three things:

    (Largely irrelevant aside) “Tits and Ass” was apparently the originally proposed title for Stephen Sondheim’s “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three” in “A Chorus LIne”; it is in the lyric, but was demoted from the title.

    Something that editors think about is whether to use “a” or “an” in front of an abbreviatum (great word, btw). For example, is it “a FAQ” or “an FAQ”; is it “a SQL Server” or “an SQL Server”? Rule of thumb is that the indefinite article is selected to match the, um, usual and customary pronunciation. Thus “a SQL Server” (a see-kwul server), not “an SQL Server (*an ess-kew-el server”).

    People who have a proprietary interest in an initialism will occasionally declare that whatever it originally stood for no longer obtains. For example, in software, the web-programming language PHP originally stood for Personal Home Pages, a set of extensions for HTML-based pages. The PHP Group now says it stands for “PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor” (a recursive initialism).

  2. Bill Mullins Says:

    Your reference to “The T&A team reminded me of an old Saturday Night Live commercial parody:

  3. Bob Richmond Says:

    Well, in my business T & A stands for “tonsils and adenoids”.

    D & C in medical usage stands for “dilation and curettage”, in the Mormon church for “Doctrine and Covenants”, a book of the Book of Mormon. It may be for this reason that D & E (“dilatation and evacuation”) is displacing the older abbreviation.

  4. Nancy Friedman Says:

    @mikepope: For the record (ha!), the music for “A Chorus Line” was written by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban. Stephen Sondheim was not involved.

    M&A (mergers and acquisitions) is frequently seen in legal and business contexts.

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