from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A word formed from the initial letters of a name, such as WAC for Women's Army Corps, or by combining initial letters or parts of a series of words, such as radar for radio detecting and ranging.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. An abbreviation formed by (usually initial) letters taken from a word or series of words, that is itself pronounced as a word, such as RAM, radar, or scuba; sometimes contrasted with initialism.
  • n. A pronounceable word formed from the beginnings (letter or syllable) of other words and thus representing the phrase so formed, e.g. Benelux = the countries Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg considered as a political or economic whole.
  • n. Any abbreviation so formed, regardless of pronunciation, such as TNT, IBM, or XML.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a word formed from the initial letters of the several words in the name


acr(o)- + -onym.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
acro- + -onym c. 1943 (Wiktionary)



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  • My worst pet peeve when it comes to language is the use of the word acronym. I often hear it used to describe any kind of abbreviation - when its original usage actually refers to an abbreviation that itself is pronounced as a word.

    I realize that some of the dictionary definitions linked here give both definitions; and I grant that acronym is an awesome word, so I can understand why people would want to use it more often. But it makes me sad to hear the meaningful distinction between these two words disappear.

    December 9, 2006