Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article
INITIALISM, also initial word. An ABBREVIATION that consists of the INITIAL letters of a series of words, pronounced in sequence: BBC for British Broadcasting Corporation, pronounced ‘bee-bee-cee’. A letter group such as NATO, pronounced as a word (‘nay-toe’) is commonly referred to as an ACRONYM. Both initialisms and acronyms have word-like qualities and take affixes (pro-BBC, non-NATO, ex-IBMer); they are sometimes referred to jointly as letter words or letter names, and the acronym is regarded by some lexicologists as a kind of initialism. The pronunciation of initialisms is usually straightforward, but writing sometimes poses problems: formerly, points were the norm (B.B.C.), but currently an unpointed style prevails in data processing and in the Armed Services and increasingly in commerce, advertising, and publishers' house styles. Although most names are upper case, there are such exceptions as the Initial Teaching Alphabet (or initial teaching alphabet), officially abbreviated as i.t.a. and ita. See LETTER WORD.