Do you keep seeing clusters of letters over and over again on the internet? Do you continually scratch your head and wonder What does that mean? Acronyms are such an IYKYK kind of thing. (IYKYK = If you know, you know.) I am here to unwrap many of the oft-used abbreviations permeating our vernacular from text conversations to work emails. And, I’ll give a Grammar Girl explanation of each acronym. Watch the short explanation video below, and read on!
The term “abbreviation” is the umbrella term for all of our shortened words or phrases, but it covers a lot … from Dr. (short for Doctor) to Dec (short for December) to Rly (short for really) to LOL (short for laugh out loud). An acronym is one type of abbreviation. Acronyms are usually in the form of initialisms, which is when a phrase is represented by the first letter of each word that makes it up. Grammar Girl is here to tell you that this is a hotly debated topic among linguists. Stay with me.
Some reputable style guides (like my friends: the Oxford English Dictionary and Encyclopedia Brittanica) generally criticize using “acronym” to refer to a word that is not pronounceable. In other words, it is just initialism when the words are pronounced as separate letters. (Examples: NFL, National Football League; and ABC, American Broadcasting Company). A true acronym, to the purists, creates a new word from letters (examples: NATO, North Atlantic Treaty Organization; and NASA, National Aeronautics and Space Administration). See how we say the letters in NFL and CBS, but we say the words NATO and NASA? But what about the abbreviation for As soon as possible? Some would say it like ay-sap, and others, A.S.A.P. Some think the line is fine between an acronym and an initialism.
To make things more interesting, some abbreviations are an acronym and an initialism combined. Examples: JPEG, Joint Photographic Experts Group; and UNESCO, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. For these, we use a combo of individual letters and a pronounceable word made from initials. Jay Peg. You Nesco. When we read NAACP aloud, most automatically say the Double-A, which adds another element to this acronym.
Allie Wall is a lifelong and careerlong linguist, professor of English and textbook author. I asked for her two favorite acronyms, and she told me scuba and snafu without hesitation. Now, I know what you’re thinking …”snafu is an ACRONYM!?” Yes. Yes, it is. “Many people don’t know that snafu was used in WWII and is derived from the phrase Situation Normal: All F***ed Up!” Allie explains. “The popular TV show ‘M.A.S.H.’ popularized this acronym.” M.A.S.H. is another acronym for Medical Army Surgical Hospital. Allie continues, “A lot of acronyms formed from military slang. AWOL is another good one. Absent without leave.”
For the sake of clarity, I am defining an acronym as letters commonly typed or spoken that combine initials from a larger grouping of words. Whether the acronym reads as a word or as the individual letters is not important here. These things are shortened for a reason, so let’s dive into some interesting and commonly used acronyms.
DO YOU KNOW THESE ACRONYMS?
CAPTCHA – Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart
Computer: Click every square with traffic lights.
Me: *break out into cold, nervous sweat*
These are the little tests that prove we’re human.
EPCOT – Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow
GIF – Graphics Interchange Format
LASER – Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation
RADAR – RAdio Detection And Ranging
SCUBA – Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus
SNAFU – Situation Normal: All F***ed Up
TASER – Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle
ZIP (CODE) – Zone Improvement Plan code
WORKPLACE & TECHNOLOGY
CC/BCC – Carbon Copy/Blind Carbon Copy
“Please BCC our clients on the email so that their emails aren’t visible to others.”
EOD/EOW – End Of Day / EOW
“Please have the first draft to me by EOD.”
EOM – End Of Message OR End Of Month
Some use EOM if the whole message is contained in the email’s subject line so that readers know that they don’t have to read further.
Subject line: “The meeting has been changed to 10 a.m. EOM,” or “We will reassess our goals at the EOM.”
ISP – Internet Service Provider
The company you pay for your internet
NSFW – Not Safe For Work
This indicates that the link, photo, video, or text you just got should not, under any circumstances, be opened in the office with others looking on.
“Check out this hilarious video (NSFW)!”
OOO – Out Of Office
“Don’t forget, I’m OOO for the rest of the week.”
OS – Operating System
If you’ve got any IT (Information Technology) questions, they’ll likely ask you what your OS is (Mac or PC).
TBA/TBD – To Be Announced/To Be Determined
“Our office reopening date remains TBD.”
YTD – Year-To-Date
“YTD, we are closer to our goals than we thought we’d be.”
SOCIAL MEDIA & INTERNET
AFAIK – As Far As I Know
Use this when you believe something is true, but you are not completely certain.
AFK – Away From Keyboard
This is basically just a short way to say that you will be offline for a given period of time.
AMA – Ask Me Anything
This one is most often associated with Reddit. Artists, celebrities, musicians, and other high-profile people will use the platform as a chance for fans to ask them, well, anything.
DM – Direct Message (also, PM – Personal Message)
If you don’t want a comment to be public, you can send a DM. And then comment that you sent the DM so that the person can check it out. On all social media, there is a way to publicly comment and a way to privately message.
IANAL/IANAD – I Am Not A Lawyer/I Am Not A Doctor
This is a funny way for internet nerds to give their two cents on a subject without purporting that they are actually qualified to do so.
ICYMI – In Case You Missed It
I love this acronym so much. In this era of sharing important information about what’s happening in the world (scientific, data-driven information, that is), this is great to use as a brief and punchy accompaniment to the science-based article you read in a highly vetted journal.
IYKYK – If You Know, You Know
This one is often used to denote exclusive information, hidden gems or inside jokes.
OOTD – Outfit Of The Day
Bloggers and influencers will often use this acronym to show what they’re wearing.
TFW – That Feeling When
Used mostly in memes, this acronym is a great conduit for connecting images with feelings. So, for example,
TL;DR – Too Long; Didn’t Read
This is another personal favorite that started on Reddit but has moved to other social platforms. If someone posts something too lengthy or tedious to read, many will comment TL;DR and ask someone who DID read it to summarize it.
CONVERSATIONAL & TEXTING
BAE – Before Anyone Else
This is a true acronym because it’s pronounced “bay.” This could pertain to any obsession, from your favorite food to your significant other.
“I love you, but this burger is BAE right now.”
FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out
“You all are driving to the beach? FOMO!”
FTW – For The Win
We all need to celebrate wins more these days.
“Jeni’s ice cream delivery FTW!”
HMU – Hit Me Up
“If anyone knows of a good local restaurant with delivery margaritas, HMU.”
IDC/IDK – I Don’t Care/I Don’t Know
“IDC what we eat, but it has to be soon — I’m starving!”
IKR – I Know, Right!?
Friend: “It’s just too hot to leave the house.”
IMO/IMHO – In My Opinion/In My Humble Opinion
Note: Use of this acronym is rarely ever actually “humble.”
“IMHO, everyone should do Pilates.”
ILYSM/IMYSM – I Love You So Much / I Miss You So Much
“The flowers you sent are gorgeous. ILYSM.”
IRL – In Real Life
What once was an acronym that younger kids used to differentiate their screen lives from their real lives, IRL took on a whole new meaning once our entire world went virtual.
“I can’t wait until I can give you a big hug IRL.”
JIC – Just In Case
“Here’s my address, JIC.”
OMW – On My Way!
Just typing this acronym in a text auto-generates “On my way!”, which is likely too enthusiastic for how you really feel about where you are going.
“My neighbor stopped to talk, but I’m On my way! now.”
ROFL – Rolling On the Floor Laughing
“That picture of you from last night has me ROFL!”
SMH – Shaking My Head
This is a fun way to express disbelief of annoyed resignation.
“SMH my puppy cannot stop chewing up everything in sight.”
TBH – To Be Honest
“I am not a fan of Taylor Swift’s new album, TBH.”
WRYD or WRUD – What are You Doing?
“WRYD for lunch today?”
SURPRISINGLY NOT AN ACRONYM
SOS is officially just a distinctive Morse code sequence, not an abbreviation for anything despite the common misconception that it means “save our souls” or “save our ship.”
A TIMELY ACRONYM
One that we have heard a lot recently is BIPOC (often pronounced bye-pock). Black, Indigenous and People Of Color. According to the New York Times, this acronym was first seen on Twitter in 2013, and Google Trends shows a spike in May of this year, coinciding with the growing Black Lives Matter movement. But its purpose has garnered some debate.
TBH, I just hope you all have learned one or two acronyms that you won’t have to Google and a little bit of nerdy history with me today. See you on the next episode!
Make sure you check out other Grammar Girl episodes:
Grammar Shape-Up Series: Apart vs. A Part
Grammar Shape-Up Series: Fewer vs. Less
Grammar Shape-Up Series: “Couldn’t Care Less”
Lay vs. Lie: Are You Using Them Correctly?
Apostrophes: Are You Over- Or Underusing Them?
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