TLA is NOT a three letter acronym

The definition of an acronym is a word formed by initial letters that can be pronounced as a separate word.

Examples of acronyms are "Laser" (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation), "Nato" (North Atlantic treaty organization), and "Ram" (random access memory).

However, "TLA" is not pronounced as a word. Each letter in it is pronounced separately, as as such it's not an acronym. If you want you can call it a three letter abbreviation, but to be more specific it's really an initialism – but that would change the abbreviation from TLA to TLI.

The Guardian style guide also recommends that acronyms are to be written using an initial capital (e.g. Nasa, Nato, Unicef), and that initialisms are to be written in all-caps but without full stops and spaces (e.g. BBC, CEO, IMF).

The lines blur, of course, when you get abbreviations such as VAT (value added tax) which can either be pronounced as individual letters or as a word.

2 thoughts on “TLA is NOT a three letter acronym

  1. I appreciate your blog pointing out the difference between abbreviations and acronyms. In recent years, I hear more and more people calling abbreviations, such as FBI, acronyms. When possible I try to point out the difference. I explain that all acronyms are abbreviations, but not all abbreviations are acronyms. BTW (just had to use a TLA), it seems to me that all TLAs, longer first-letter abbreviations, and acronyms can be called initialisms (using your linked definition & others), but not all abbreviations are initialisms.

    Now, if you could also address the relatively recent (last decade or so) penchant for using unnecessary superlatives, most specifically incredible(ly) and impact. Incredible has become the lazy person’s go-to adjective (adverb), and I don’t mean in a slang style, such as the oft-used word awesome. Even respected reporters and narrators grab incredible to describe something when many other adjectives would provide a more accurate description. And with the word impact, it seems people have difficulty remembering how to use affect/effect, so they just grab the more powerful word impact when often the word affect would better serve. A couple of my language pet peeves (along with the spoken use of the what should only be a written abbreviation: i.e.) Thanks for the chance to vent.

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