What are Acronyms?
The term acronym is used to describe words formed from the first letters of other words. Examples are CEO (Chief Executive Officer) or ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). These examples are actually initialisms rather than acronyms (the difference is explained at the end of this article), but most people do not make the distinction in everyday conversation.
Many acronyms are used in computing such as WWW (World Wide Web) and PC (Personal Computer). Acronyms have also become a common means of expression in online communication. In order to speed up the typing of long phrases, a whole subset of language has arisen to make texting, chatting, and instant messaging easier. This kind of acronym use is especially common among kids and teens.
Concerns for Parents
- The acronyms commonly used in texting and instant messaging are part of your child's vocabulary. One of the keys to keeping kids safe while using technology is to be aware of what they are doing online. How can you monitor their email, texting, and chatting if you don't understand much of what your kids are saying? See what you can make of the message below:
lol! omh thx! w8, ru gonna b thr tom?
And that's an easy one.
- Along those same lines, many acronyms aren't as innocent as "laughing out loud" or "by the way." Some acronyms are explicitly sexual or part of a code to keep you in the dark as to what your kids are up to online.
- PAL = parents are listening
- POS = parents over shoulder
- KPC = keeping parents clueless
- NIFOC= nude in front of computer
How Can I Keep My Child Safe?
- Not all acronyms are dirty and the use of acronyms is not inherently bad. But if you don't know the first thing about them (and your kids are aware of how painfully little you know), your children may use acronyms as a means to keep their online communication secret. You need to have basic acronym literacy--or know where to go to look them up--if you see something you don't recognize in your kids' online communication.
- For an extensive and searchable list of acronyms and other common terms used online, try Urban Dictionary.
- See the Common Acronym List for a partial compilation of common acronyms your child may be using.
- Use sites and features such as LG Dtxtr, Sharpened.net, Teen Chat Decoder or NetLingo to search acronyms you may not understand.
Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Initialisms
An acronym is an abbreviation that is pronounced as a word rather than as individual letters. NASA, NASCAR, OPEC, and NATO are all acronyms while YMCA and NYPD are not.
An initialism is an abbreviation made up of letters that are pronounced one at a time; initialisms are not pronounced as words.  This means that both FBI and LOL (as well as YMCA and NYPD) are initialisms, not acronyms.