Acronyms In The OED

Every so often the authoritative Oxford English Dictionary decides that new words, phrases, and slang have become sufficiently accepted to be included in the next publication.  For those interested in our language, it is a momentous occasion.

The most recent announcement features many new words, like “tinfoil hat” and “couch surfer” and (horrors!) “wassup,” as well as new usages, like recognizing “heart” as a verb (as in “I [heart shape] NY”).  A number of the newly recognized words are in fact acronyms — or, to use the word used by the OED, “initialisms.”  These new selections would delight Valley Girls, emailophiles, and hard-core texters.  They include “OMG,” “LOL,” “IMHO,” “TMI,” and “BFF.”  For those of you who, like me, wonders whether “TMI” refers to Three Mile Island, it doesn’t — it means “too much information.”

The continued generation of new words and usages shows that English remains a vibrant, growing language — so much so that an English speaker from the year 2350 reading Catcher in the Rye would find its English as distant from their usage as Shakespeare is from the modern tongue.  But if “OMG” and “LOL” are now regarded as proper uses of the King’s English, can “CYA” and “WTF” be far behind?

3 thoughts on “Acronyms In The OED

  1. Acronyms and initialisms aren’t synonymous, though there is some overlap in how they’re defined. But a distinction is useful: in initialisms, each letter is pronounced separately (e.g., BBC), whereas acronyms are pronounced as though they were words (e.g., NATO).

    Inclusion in a reputable dictionary doesn’t imply “proper” usage; it just means they’re used enough to warrant inclusion. According to Jesse Sheidlower (an editor at the OED), WTF has been included for two years already.


  2. Thanks — the distinction between acronyms and initialisms is interesting. I guess the lesson is: don’t have vowels in your initials, or you are likely off to acronym land.

    As to WTF being in the OED: WTF?


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