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Word Formation: Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Eponyms

written by: Heather Marie Kosur • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/17/2012

In order to understand word formation fully, the processes of abbreviation, acronym, and eponym need to be included. Also linked to in this article are downloadable vocabulary lists of common English abbreviations, acronyms, and eponyms.

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    Abbreviations

    Abbreviation is the word formation process in which a word or phrase is shortened. Initialisms are a type of abbreviation formed by the initial letters of a word or phrase. Although abbreviation is largely a convention of written language, sometimes abbreviations carry over into spoken language. For example:

    Written Abbreviations

    • Apr. – April
    • cm – centimeter(s)
    • d. – died, died in
    • dept. – department
    • Dr. – doctor
    • Jr. – Junior
    • Mr. – Mister
    • oz – ounce(s)
    • Sun. – Sunday
    • yd – yard(s)

    Spoken-Written Abbreviations

    • A.M. – ante meridiem [in the morning]
    • B.C.E. – Before Common Era
    • GOP – Grand Old Party (Republican Party)
    • HIV – Human Immunodeficiency Virus
    • i.e. – id est [that is]
    • JFK – John Fitzgerald Kennedy
    • OJ – orange juice
    • PMS – premenstrual syndrome
    • RSVP – répondez s'il vous plait
    • VIP – very important person

    Abbreviation is related to both the word formation processes of clipping and blending.

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    Acronyms

    Acronyms are words formed by the word formation process in which an initialism is pronounced as a word. For example, HIV is an initialism for Human Immunodeficiency Virus that is spoken as the three letters H-I-V. However, AIDS is an acronym for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome that is spoken as the word aids. Other examples of acronyms in English include:

    • ASAP – as soon as possible
    • AWOL – absent without leave
    • laser - light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation
    • NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration
    • NASDAQ - National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations
    • PIN – personal identification number
    • radar - radio detection and ranging
    • scuba - self-contained underwater breathing apparatus
    • TESOL – Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages
    • WASP – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant

    Acronyms are related to the word formation process of abbreviation.

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    Eponyms

    Eponyms are a word form by the word formation process in which a new word is formed from the name of a real of fictitious person. For example:

    • atlas – Atlas
    • boycott – Charles C. Boycott
    • cardigan – James Thomas Brudnell, 7th Earl of Cardigan
    • cereal – Ceres
    • dunce – John Duns Scotus
    • guillotine – Joseph Ignace Guillotin
    • jacuzzi – Candido Jacuzzi
    • luddite – Ned Ludd
    • malapropism – Mrs. Malaprop
    • mesmerize – Franz Anton Mesmer
    • mirandize – Ernesto A. Miranda
    • narcissistic – Narcissus
    • nicotine – Jean Nicot
    • pasteurization – Louis Pasteur
    • poinsettia – Noel Roberts Poinsett
    • praline – César de Choiseul, Count Plessis–Praslin
    • sadistic – Marquis de Sade
    • salmonella – Daniel Elmer Salmon
    • sandwich – John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich
    • volcano – Vulcan
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    For a printable vocabulary list of the most frequent abbreviations, acronyms, and eponyms in English, please download List of Commonly Used Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Eponyms in English.

Word Formation: Creating New Words in English

The articles in this series define and exemplify the most common word formation processes, or the creation of new words, in English including derivation, back-formation, conversion, compounding, clipping, blending, abbreviations, acronyms, eponyms, coinages, nonce words, borrowing, and calquing.
  1. Word Formation: Derivation and Back-Formation
  2. Word Formation: Conversion
  3. Word Formation: Compounding, Clipping, and Blending
  4. Word Formation: Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Eponyms
  5. Word Formation: Coinages, Nonce Words, Borrowing, and Calquing