Tag Archives: acronym

Acronyms and the Indefinite Article

Raw Material for Acronyms

Acronym Raw Materials

A Trivial Pursuit

If you work in a large organization, chances are you’re familiar with a reasonably large number of acronyms. At the aerospace company for which I once labored there were hundreds upon hundreds; so many we required a company-specific dictionary to understand what they were. There were certain acronyms for which most people hadn’t the faintest idea what they actually stood for. They just became the names people used for the component or report the acronym designated.

There’s a question I often wrestled with – and argued over with others – regarding the proper use of the indefinite article when writing contains one or more of these acronyms. For the grammar police (of which I am a proud member), this isn’t a trivial question. It goes like this. For an acronym, when spoken (or sub-vocalized) with a vowel sound at its beginning, but for which the full pronunciation of the term begins with a consonant sound, which is more correct? “A” or “an”?

For instance, the acronym LOL stands for “laugh out loud”. When saying the acronym itself it begins with the vowel sound “eh”. However, when saying the entire phrase it begins with the consonant sound “l”. From my POV (which, btw, is an acronym that begins with a consonant sound regardless of which way it’s spoken), I have always used the indefinite article “an” if it begins with a vowel sound.

This may seem trivial, especially with an acronym like LOL. However, one of the most widely used terms at my former place of business was SSME, which stands for Space Shuttle Main Engine. It was used a lot and when I used the acronym I would always use it as “an SSME”. However, because when the entire name of the product was used it began with the consonant sound “S”, some people would use “a SSME”. Of course, if you were to see the acronym, but read it as the entire phrase, this would make sense. However, my experience was the opposite; almost everybody used the four letters. Hence, I thought it appropriate to write “an SSME”.

Mystery Solved

As I said, this will be to many a very trivial issue. Nevertheless, inasmuch as the correct use of language is important to many (including moi), I was reminded of this distinction last night when commenting on a Facebook post by a friend. As I was writing today’s post, I was preparing to say I’ve not seen a rule that specifically addresses this issue, but I paused and did a quick Google search. Much to my surprise, and with not a little satisfaction, I found it addressed at Purdue’sOnline Writing Lab” (OWL). Here’s the specific rule.

So . . . if you have occasion to use acronyms which start with a vowel sound, whereas the item for which the acronym is a replacement starts with a consonant sound, the rule is to use the indefinite article “an”, as opposed to “a”.

I believe World Peace is just around the corner!

The Kingdom of Spamalot

A Can of Spam

All Hail The King!

Checking my dashboard for this WordPress blog, I discovered I have received 15 comments that have been isolated as spam. Sometimes there are legitimate comments that get quarantined and I want to be careful to review each one of them for legitimacy. What’s particularly interesting to me is how many of them tell me I’ve posted the greatest thing since sliced bread. There are two other things that seem to distinguish virtually every one of these. First, there is almost always a misspelling that generally consists of a spelling transposition, i.e. the letters are all there but not in the right places. Second, most of them use an acronym generally reserved for texting. Here are some examples:

  • YMMD with that asenwr! TX
  • That’s way the bseetst answer so far!
  • You’re the graetest! JMHO
  • Never seen a bteter post! ICOCBW
  • With the bases loaded you strcuk us out with that answer!
  • That’s raelly shrewd! Good to see the logic set out so well.
  • AKAIK you’ve got the asnwer in one!
  • Wow! Great tihnknig! JK
  • Great common sense here. Wish I’d thugoht of that
Another interesting thing is some of these comments are in response to other comments that aren’t directly responsive to what I wrote, but are clearly related to a couple of keywords in the post. For instance, I wrote a post about bacon and one of the comments was a discount offer for smoked meats, which I decided not to remove as it might actually be of interest to someone. Others are comments to a test I did.
I’m unclear on what these comments are doing for anybody, assuming they aren’t caught, marked as spam, and deleted – which is what I’m going to do with all of them. Anybody know why this happens? Are they just link fishing or something? There no doubt is a term for this I’m just unfamiliar with.

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