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An acronym — for example, WATS — is a shortened form derived from the initial letters of the words that make up the complete form. Thus WATS is derived from Wide-Area Telecommunications Service. Like all-capital abbreviations such as IRS and NAM, acronyms are usually written in all capitals and without periods; however, unlike those abbreviations, which are pronounced letter by letter, acronyms are pronounced like words. Because they have been deliberately coined to replace the longer expressions they represent, acronyms are appropriate for use on all occasions, and need no written-out form to introduce them.

CARE – Cooperative for American Relief to Everywhere
ASCAP – American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers
AMEX – American Stock Exchange
ZIP (Code) – Zone Improvement Plan (remember zones?)
PIN – personal identification number (don’t write “PIN number”)
EMILY’s List – a political fund-raising group based on the concept that early money is like yeast (and makes the dough rise)
SADD – Students Against Drunk Driving
NASDAQ – National Association of Security Dealers Automated Quotations
OSHA – Occupational Safety and Health Administration
ESOP – employee stock ownership plan
KISS – keep it simple, sweetie! (or stupid, depending…)
NIMBY – not in my backyard (as in a NIMBY protest)
SOHO – small office, home office (as in the SOHO market)
SOHO – in New York City, it’s short for a neighborhood south of Houston Street
EPCOT – Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow
MEGO – my eyes glaze over
BOGSAT – bunch of guys sitting around table (an ad hoc decision-making process)

Note: In a few cases acronyms derived from initial letters are written entirely in small letters without periods.

scuba – self-contained underwater breathing apparatus
laser – light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation

Some coined names use more than the first letters of the words they represent. Such names are usually written with only the first letter capitalized.

Ameslan – American Sign Language
Delmarva – an East Coast (U.S.) peninsula made up of Delaware and parts of Maryland and Virginia
radar – radio detecting and ranging
sonar – sound navigation ranging
modem – modulator and demodulator
canola (oil) – Canada, oil low acid
op-ed page – the page that is opposite the editorial page

In a few cases all-capital abbreviations such as MC (for master of ceremonies) or DJ (for disc jockey) may also be spelled out in an uncapitalized form (emcee and deejay). The spelled-out forms are preferable when such abbreviations are used as verbs.

  • Mortimer emceed (rather than: MC’d) the fund-raiser dinner.
  • Who has been okaying (rather than: OK’ing) these bills?


  • You’d find it easier to get up in the morning if you didn’t OD on TV every night. (Here the choice is between OD and overdose, not oh-dee.)

Source: The Gregg Reference Manual

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