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What are Acronyms and How Did They Appear in Our Vocabulary?

Acronym is a form of abbreviation that is used for convenience and it allows us to use one word instead of repeating the entire phrase.

David J K Carr
David J K Carr
Book lesson

What is an acronym? It’s a word or term that is made up from the initial, or first, letters of a phrase. It’s a form of abbreviation that is used for convenience and it allows us to use one word instead of repeating the entire phrase.

For example, most people have heard of NATO. This is an acronym which stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Similarly, most people have heard of NASA, or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. That’s quite a lot to remember so it’s a lot easier to just refer to NASA.

Staying with the USA, Americans often refer to POTUS (President of the United States), SCOTUS (The Supreme Court of the United States), and even FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States). Quite what becomes of FLOTUS, if and when a woman is ever elected as President, remains to be seen.

Across the Atlantic to Britain now. If you read British news reports you may come across the term COBRA, as in “the Prime Minister has called an urgent meeting of COBRA”. Now a cobra is a species of snake but, in this context, it is also an acronym which stands for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A. Many people think that COBRA is some sort of organisation but, really, it’s just a room somewhere in Whitehall.

Acronym as an essential part of English vocabulary

Going further back in time, some acronyms were so convenient and used so often that they entered the lexicon as words that are now familiar to everyone the world over.

For example, have you ever been scuba diving? Did you ever wonder where the word “scuba” comes from? Well, wonder no more, because it’s also an acronym that stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.

Everyone knows what a laser is, right? But few people realise that laser is also an acronym which means Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation. But it’s just way easier to say “laser”, so that’s what everyone did.

Here’s another for you: Radio Detection and Ranging. Can you guess the word? It’s another word that everyone recognises – Radar.

So, if you ever come across an English word or term that you cannot find in a translator or a dictionary, consider that it could be an acronym. Because it just might be.


David J K Carr

I'm a British native and worked as a lawyer in London for 30 years. I'm also a TEFL-certified English teacher and have been teaching students all over the world for 3 years.

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