I’ve long been fascinated by acronyms. An acronym is a pronounceable word formed by the initial letters of a phrase, such as ASAP (as soon as possible) and SWAK (sealed with a kiss).

For ages, curmudgeons have railed against acronyms and other abbreviations, calling them cryptic and confusing. But in a high-tech society, this age-old device has its benefits, including brevity. For texters with overtaxed thumbs, shorthand is always an advantage.

Some acronyms have entered the language as genuine words. Examples include radar (radio detection and ranging), scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus), and snafu (bowdlerized version: situation normal, all fouled up).

But what I most enjoy are the acronymic coinages that are meaningful, appropriate, ingenious, or clever. Here are a few examples:

  • ALOHA (Aboriginal Lands of Hawaiian Ancestry), a campaign to compensate native citizens for property that was confiscated generations earlier.
  • BOADICEA (British Overseas Airways Digital Information Computer for Electronic Automation). Boadicea was the ancient Celtic warrior queen who led a revolt against invading Romans. The name, by the way, is pronounced “boh-uh-duh-SEE-uh.”
  • LOBSTER (Long-term Ocean Bottom Settlement Test for Engineering Research), a U.S. Navy project.
  • SCROOGE (Society to Curtail Ridiculous, Outrageous, and Ostentatious Gift Exchange), a group protesting Christmas commercialism.

If you use an unfamiliar acronym in your writing, always provide the full form — called the expansion — on first mention in the document. Example: “A spokesperson for SNOOP (Students Naturally Opposed to Outrageous Prying) announced yesterday that….” Thereafter, the acronym alone may be cited with impunity.

Finally, don’t make the common mistake of using acronym to describe A.T.M., E.S.P., T.G.I.F., and the like. When it’s pronounced not as a word but letter by letter, it’s an initialism, as the periods indicate.

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]

Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant for more than 30 years. He may be best known for his headline “Speak Spanish [French, German, etc.] Like a Diplomat!” This familiar series of ads sold spectacular numbers of recorded foreign language lessons for Audio-Forum, generating revenues that total in the tens of millions of dollars. In the process, the ad achieved the status of an industry classic. Don’s work is mentioned in three major college advertising textbooks, and examples of his promotions are cited in the books Million Dollar Mailings (1992) and World's Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters (1996). In a column in Advertising Age, his name was included in a short list of direct-marketing “superstars.” He has a parallel career as a writer on language and wordplay. His celebration of spoonerisms, Cruel and Unusual Puns (Dell, 1991), received rave reviews and quickly went into a second printing. His second book was Acronymania (Dell, 1993). Recently, Don retired from full-time copywriting in order to focus on other interests, including his passion for “recreational linguistics.” He is at work on a new book in that genre. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Word Ways and writes “The Language Perfectionist,” a weekly column on grammar and usage, for Early to Rise. Don is author of The Versatile Freelancer,an e-book from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI) that shows copywriters – and almost anyone – how to diversify their careers into consulting, training, critiquing, and speaking.