three little words

Analysing acronyms.

Ah, the TLA. It has become so prolific in recent times. Some might even argue that there are Too Damn Many. So when did the Three Letter Acronym become part of the everyday? And what exactly is an acronym?

First of all, let’s get our definitions correct. An abbreviation is any shortened form of a word (ie. Dr for doctor). An acronym is a special form of abbreviation, which can also be pronounced as a word (ie. ASIC for Australian Securities and Investments Commission or hazmat for hazardous materials). An initialism is formed from the first letters of a string of words, but can’t be pronounced as a word itself (ie. ATO for Australian Taxation Office).

So although ‘TLA’ is technically an initialism, the term acronym is widely used to describe any abbreviation formed from initial letters.

Before the 20th Century, acronyms were practically non-existent. A relatively new trend in the world of language, the acronym has become popular both due to increasingly new and complex terms, as well as improved literacy rates. And it seems that the rise of computers and technology has fuelled the fire, with texting and Social Media paving the way for a new form of shorthand.

Of course there are many uses for the TLA. They are not just a part of a teenager’s Instant Message knowledge base, but are also used to differentiate countries, quote currencies, simplify industry specific terms and abbreviate names of organisations.

And then there are extreme acronyms, which just seem pointless. This is apparently the world’s longest acronym (or initialism to be exact), and comes from the Concise Dictionary of Soviet Terminology. It is, quite simply, baffling.


"The laboratory for shuttering, reinforcement, concrete and ferroconcrete operations for composite-monolithic and monolithic constructions of the Department of the Technology of Building-assembly operations of the Scientific Research Institute of the Organization for building mechanization and technical aid of the Academy of Building and Architecture of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics."

So just how many acronyms does one come across every day? For that, my friends, I’m going AWOL.