Posted by: Jack Henry | May 22, 2017

Editor’s Corner: If You Don’t Stand for Something…

In my last post, I wrote about using periods in acronyms and initialisms (tip: don’t do it!). Today, just for fun, I’d like to talk about words that look like abbreviations, but aren’t.

One of our readers recently alerted us to the following sentence, which appeared in The New York Times: “The two examples above – G.P.A. and ACT – provide just a glimpse into the growing field of data and analysis relating to college admissions.”

The New York Times uses periods in initialisms so readers don’t try to pronounce them as words. GPA is an initialism. It stands for grade point average. So far, so good.

But ACT is also pronounced one letter at a time (“A-C-T,” not “act”). Why didn’t The Times put a period after each letter?

Surprisingly, ACT is not an initialism; since 1996, those three letters have been the full name of the test. (From 1959 to 1995, it was called the American College Test.)

The other major college admissions test, the SAT, followed suit. It used to be the Scholastic Aptitude Test. In 1990, it became the Scholastic Assessment Test. Since 1997, it’s just SAT.

SAT is to Scholastic Assessment Test as AT&T is to what?

Words that started as abbreviations but lost their original meaning are called orphan initialisms or empty initialisms.

They usually occur when an organization wants to shift its focus, but doesn’t want to lose its name recognition. For example, AT&T (formerly American Telephone & Telegraph) discontinued telegraph service in 1991. The cable network AMC (formerly American Movie Classics) is best known these days for original shows like The Walking Dead, not classic films.

Here is a partial list of companies and other organizations that have rebranded themselves using just their initials:

· 3M (Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company)

· A&E (Arts & Entertainment Network)

· AARP (American Association of Retired Persons)

· ACT (American College Testing)

· AMC (American Movie Classics)

· AMC Theatres (American Multi-Cinema)

· AMF Bowling Centers (American Machine and Foundry)

· AOL (America Online)

· AT&T (American Telephone & Telegraph)

· BP (British Petroleum)

· CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System)

· CNBC (Consumer News and Business Channel)

· Epcot (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow)

· ESPN (Entertainment and Sports Programming Networks)

· IFC (Independent Film Channel)

· KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken)

· MTV (Music Television)

· Nabisco (National Biscuit Company)

· SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test; Scholastic Assessment Test)

· Sega (Service Games)

· Texas A&M (The Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas)

· TLC (The Learning Channel)

· TNT (Turner Network Television)

· VH1 (Video Hits One)

Ben Ritter | Technical Editor | Symitar®
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Symitar Documentation Services

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