At the risk of sounding overly pedantic and drawing attention to my own failings…

“Acronyms” are defined as:

words formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as they are spelled, not as separate letters.

Examples include “laser”, “scuba” and “NATO”.

“Initialisms” are defined as:

abbreviations which consist of the initial (i.e. first) letters of words and which are pronounced as separate letters when they are spoken.

Examples include “BBC” and “CD”.

To add to the fun, we also have “contractions”, which are defined as:

a type of abbreviation in which letters from the middle of the word are omitted.

(such as “Dr” or “Mr”) and “shortenings”, which are defined as:

abbreviations in which the beginning or end of the word has been dropped.

(such as “rhino” or “cello”).

These are all sub-categories of abbreviations, but in the TeX world many of us seem to be using “acronym” as a synonym for “abbreviation”. This isn't helped by packages such as glossaries — mea culpa. (As a writer whose first language is English, I hang my head in shame.) I've tried to address this with glossaries-extra, which treats acronyms as specific types of abbreviations.

This misuse of the term actually dates as far back as LaTeX 2.09, and I suspect this is like the guillemet/guillemot issue that once established is hard to rectify, but given how pedantic we can be about typesetting and the use of semantically correct commands I think we ought to exercise some pedantry with our tags.

The tag is currently defined as

{acronyms} is about formatting acronyms and abbreviations using customized commands or specific packages like acronym or {glossaries}.

The tag is currently just a synonym for .

Should we make as the main tag for general abbreviations with redirecting to ?

Suggested description:

{abbreviations} is about formatting abbreviations (such as acronyms or initialisms) using customized commands or specific packages like acronym, acro or {glossaries}.

Alice and Bob Scenario 1

Alice asks a question with a MWE that contains

blah \textsc{abc} blah

Bob: btw don't use \textsc, define \newcommand{\acronym}[1]{\textsc{#1}} and use \acronym{abc}

Alice: it's an initialism not an acronym.

Bob: "acronym" is a commonly-used term.

Alice: I commonly see people use \textsc so why can't I?

Bob: That's different.

Heated argumentdiscussion ensues.

Alice and Bob Scenario 2

Alice asks a question with a MWE that contains

blah \textsc{abc} blah

Bob: btw don't use \textsc, define \newcommand{\acronym}[1]{\textsc{#1}} and use \acronym{abc}

Alice: it's an initialism not an acronym.

Bob: yes, see acronyms and abbreviations. Use \initialism instead.

LaTeX conversation resumes.

  • In French such difference exits too. However lot of people does not know about it and use the wrong word. I don't know if for english native speaker it is the same or not. Knowing this point may help to make a choice I think. Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 12:57
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    there are some variations of abbreviations that aren't covered here, in which some middle letters are included and/or initial letters omitted. two tex-related examples are "DANTE e.V." (Deutschsprachige Anwendervereinigung TeX e.V.) and STIX (Scientific and Technical Information eXchange). are there separate terms for these? (showing my ignorance. tugboat uses the command \acro as a convenient indicator for how a string should be presented; an intentional oversimplification.) Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 13:31
  • @barbarabeeton They may come under the "shortening" definition, even though STIX sounds more like an initialism (since exchange sounds like it starts with X). It's reassuring to know my ignorance is shared with the experts :-) but I agree that it is convenient to use commands like \acro. I don't think most people would intuitively guess that, say, \init meant an initialism and something like \abbrv is too general. Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 13:57
  • @RomainPicot I think a lot of native English speakers also don't know the differences and many use the wrong word. If there are users who use a web translation service to view this site, I'm not sure which term would translation more accurately. Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 14:00
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    My main reason for posting this question is that I've started to see comments criticising the use of "acronym" for initialisms and, if nothing else, we can at least link here to indicate that we're aware of the misuse of the term, even if we can't decide on a resolution :-) Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 14:04
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    Given that common use doesn't make the fine distinction, and tagging is supposed to help people find questions, I don't see any advantage in making the tags distinct. Also, if the packages cover both generally, then there are even fewer reasons to separate the tags.
    – Alan Munn
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 17:51
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    @AlanMunn I wasn't suggesting separating the tags but switching them so that "abbreviations" is the main tag with "acronyms" redirecting to "abbreviations". Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 18:13
  • Sorry, I think I read too fast. :)
    – Alan Munn
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 19:28
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    Well, it was the confusion about definitions, apart from browser wars, that prompted W3C to deprecate <acronym> element from HTML5, and leave both acronyms and abbreviations under the <abbr> element (an abbreviation itself).
    – carnendil
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 19:33
  • @AlanMunn I'm always doing that :-) Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 20:42
  • @carnendil yes, it generates a lot of confusion (and isn't helped when some initialisms become acronyms!) That's the joy of living languages :-) Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 20:42
  • tee hee! there are those of us who find most \textsc fonts too "inconspicuous" for this purpose. (the only approximately x-height small caps font i know of that is distinct from regular text is the one used by "the economist"; wonderful design!) so instead, for tugboat, we use scaled-down caps, thus, a reader can tell the difference. that's what i meant by "presented" in my earlier comment. Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 21:04
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    Perhaps I am missing something, but it seems that @AlanMunn's solution for US Customary units at How to typeset imperial/US customary units, especially in combination with SI/metric units could be employed here so that the same package is used, just the with a different named macro? Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 21:48
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    @percusse yes. I was just thinking of the internal logic behind the tags, with the more specific tags being synonyms of the general tag, rather than the other way around. It's possibly just me being slightly OCDing ;-) Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 12:18
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    @percusse Oh, that made me queasy seeing all those words swirling about! Let's make the acronyms and abbreviations tags both synonymous with the duck tag :-) That will be more fun. Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 20:24

1 Answer 1


I do not think that distinction of acronyms, abbreviations and initialisms is useful from the point of view of LaTeX typesetting. Therefore, I think that one tag is sufficient to cover all these linguistic phenomena.

I doubt it is important which of and is the "master" and which is the "slave", and I would leave it be as is. The tag excerpt is clearly mentioning both notions, so if someone is confused, it is not due to the system being wrong.

  • Both Turabian and the Oxford Style Manual have a chapter on abbreviations that deal with the presentation of the different types of abbreviations, so I don't think it should simply be dismissed as a mere linguistic phenomena that has nothing to do with typesetting. Since "acronym" is a subset of "abbreviation" it makes more sense to switch round the tags if it can easily be done. I don't know how the site's tagging system works. If it's too complicated to make such as switch, then fair enough, but otherwise I don't see the disadvantage in not switching them around. Commented Feb 9, 2016 at 16:28
  • @NicolaTalbot It shouldn't be that difficult to switch them.
    – yo'
    Commented Feb 9, 2016 at 16:44

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