List of acronyms

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Here is a list of some common acronyms, i.e., abbreviations which are formed from the initial letters or other parts of words but are pronounced as if they were words in their own right. For more on acronyms and advice about their use in academic writing see Acronym. For a more limited set of abbreviations, you may like to consult Latin abbreviations as used in academic writing.

  • An Aga (or Aga cooker) is a type of (often very large) stove or kitchen range made of cast iron. Its name is an acronym of the Swedish firm where Agas were first produced, Aktiebolaget Svenska Gasaccumulator (i.e., Swedish Gas Accumulator Company). An Aga saga is a type of novel in which the characters are prosperous members of the English middle class, i.e., individuals who may be thought particularly likely to own an Aga.
  • AIDS (pronounced IPA: /eɪdz/) - Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
  • awol (pronounced IPA: /'eɪwɒl/absent without leave; originally used of soldiers who fail to report for duty without official permission, but now used more widely in informal speech, often jocularly, of anyone who unexpectedly cannot be found when they are wanted or needed.
  • Benelux or the Benelux Union is the economic and political union formed by Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Benelux was originally established as a customs union in 1948 but became an economic union after the three countries, along with France, Germany, and Italy, signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957 to establish the European Economic Community (EEC), the forerunner of the European Union (EU), of which all three Benelux countries are members.
  • Comintern – the Communist International, an international Communist organisation founded by Lenin in 1919 and dissolved in 1943.
  • dipteldiplomatic telegram; a report or other communication sent by an ambassador or other diplomat abroad to his home government.
  • EFTA (pronounced IPA: /'ɛftə/) – European Free Trade Association, established in 1960 to eliminate trade tariffs on certain products; its current membership is Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, and Liechtenstein.
  • Fatah is the name of a Palestinian political party, currently the largest party in the multi-party Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). Fatah is a transliteration of the party’s name in Arabic, فتح (fath), which means ‘opening’, ‘conquest’, ‘victory’, and is a reverse acronym of the Arabic حركة التحرير الوطني الفلسطيني, arakat al-taḥrīr al-waṭanī al-filasṭīnī (i.e., Palestinian National Liberation Movement).
  • FIFA – pronounced IPA: /'fiː fə/ – is the usual way of referring to the international governing body of the game of association football, i.e., the International Federation of Association Football. FIFA is an acronym of the organisation’s French name, Fédération Internationale de Football Association.
  • The Gestapo were the secret police in Nazi Germany: the word Gestapo is an acronym of the German Geheime Staatspolizei (Secret State Police).
  • Gulag is an acronym of the Russian Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagerei (i.e., Main Camp Administration), a branch of the Soviet security service established by Joseph Stalin (1879-1953) in 1930. The word gulag was originally used of the system of harsh labour camps which persisted in the USSR until 1955, but is sometimes applied, more broadly, to any labour camp for political prisoners. (See also Russian words in English.)
  • Hamas is the name of an Islamist fundamentalist organisation, which currently forms the government of the Gaza Strip. Hamas is a transliteration of its name in Arabic, حماس (hamās), which means ‘eagerness, ‘zeal’, ‘keenness’ and is an acronym of حركة المقاومة الاسلامية, harakat al-muqāwamah al-ʾislāmiyyah (i.e., Islamist Resistance Movement).
  • a laser is a device which emits high intensity optical radiation: the word is an acronym of 'light amplification by the stimulated emission of radiation'.
  • NASA (pronounced IPA: /'næsə /) - the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
  • a nimby – the word, pronounced IPA: /'nɪm bɪ/, is an acronym of ‘not in my back yard’ – is a person who objects to a proposed development (such as the building of a factory or the construction of a new road) when it is sited in his or her locality but raises no objection to a similar development if it is sited elsewhere.
  • radarradio detecting and ranging, i.e., a system that uses very high frequency radio waves to detect the position and speed of distant objects.
  • SATs in the United Kingdom are Statutory Assessment Tests, i.e., tests taken by school pupils at the end of years 2, 6, and 9 to assess their progress against certain nationally determined standards; while in the United States SATs are Scholastic Aptitude Tests, i.e., tests taken by high-school students to evaluate their suitability for admission to an institution of higher education.
  • scuba (as in ‘scuba diving’, etc.) is a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, consisting of a cylinder of compressed air attached to a breathing device.
  • SIM (as in 'SIM card') - subscriber identity (or identification) module.
  • sonarsound navigation and ranging, i.e., a system that uses sound waves to determine the position of objects underwater.
  • stem (subjects) – (subjects within the fields of) science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
  • a taser is a device which temporarily disables its target by firing darts which deliver an electric shock. The word taser is an acronym of Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle, and the device was so named by its inventor, Jack Cover, after a fictional childhood hero, Tom Swift, and one of the books in which he featured, Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle.
  • UNICEF (pronounced IPA: /'j uː nɪ sɛf/) is the United Nations Children’s Fund. It was formerly known as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, and it is the initial letters of the words in this name that produce the acronym UNICEF.
  • USDAW (pronounced IPA: /'ʌz dɔː/) – Union of Shop, Distributive, and Allied Workers.
  • a WASP or Wasp is a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant: the acronym is applied in the United States to those of North European, usually Protestant, descent, a group widely regarded as particularly privileged and influential in American society.

The names of some of the major retail chains in the UK are acronyms, among them:

  • Aldi - the name of two discount supermarket chains based in Germany but with stores in many other countries. The name is formed from the first two letters of Aldi’s founders, the brothers, Karl and Theo Albrecht, and the first two letters of the word Diskont (discount).
  • IKEA (English pronunciation IPA: /aɪkiːə/) – the name of a company which sells ready-to-assemble furniture and home accessories, founded in Sweden in 1943 and now one of the world’s largest furniture retailers. Its name is an acronym of the initial letters of the company’s founder, Ingvar Kamprad (1926-2018), of the farm where he grew up, Elmtaryd, and of his home town in the south of Sweden, Agunnaryd.
  • Tesco – the name was first used in 1924 by Tesco’s founder, Jack Cohen (1898-1979), then a market trader, when he bought a consignment of tea from Thomas Edward Stockwell (1878-1933) and made labels for his goods using Stockwell’s initials (TES) and the first two letters of his own surname (CO).