Abbreviations vs. Acronyms, and Why You Should Stop Calling It an Acronyms List

As with most fields, my primary field, international development, uses many standards and jargon that do not follow traditional rules of grammar, language, and spelling (and I’m a traditionalist). Some are harmless, such as capitalizing the “g” in “Government” when referring to a specific country (e.g., Government of South Sudan, Government of Nigeria); others are less so. I would like to share with you why you should stop one very common but very incorrect practice: calling an abbreviations list an “acronyms list.”

inigomontoyafromtheprincessbride_5eb38f6e2f66bcfb3c178e52e0882339“Acronym” and “abbreviation” are not interchangeable terms. According to Oxford Dictionaries, an abbreviation is “a shortened form of a word or phrase,” while an acronym is “an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word.” Thus, acronyms are a type of abbreviation. Calling it an “acronyms list” is simply incorrect because the title “acronym” excludes many of the abbreviations we use, such as HIV, LOE, M&E, NGO, and

So, my major life goal as an editor—I’m not joking—is to rid the world of its incorrect use of
“acronyms list” in favor of the correct-on-all-levels “abbreviations list.” Or at the very least, “abbreviations and acronyms list.” I look forward to seeing this positive change in your documents. Happy writing!

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