Acronyms and Periods

Back in the day, it seemed we put periods in every acronym. Much of that has changed from when I was in elementary school. That was way before zip codes and two-letter state abbreviations. That was even before calculators, copy machines, and yes, even area codes. But I’m not here to talk about my age (by now you’re imagining I’m about ninety).

So, in case you don’t know what an acronym is, I could give you the long, tedious definition in Merriam-Webster’s, but I’ll spare you and just say that if you take the first letter of each word in a name or phrase and put them together, you have an acronym. They’re everywhere, and just about every corporation seems to have one. Here are a few: IBM, NATO, FAFSA, LASER . . .  and now we have chat and Internet acronyms like LOL and BFF, BFN, BRB (I always thought that meant “bathroom break,” but that could apply, right?), DBEYR and FWIW (okay, if you’re not up on all these, don’t concern yourself).

In this fast-food, fast world, we seem to want to shorten everything we say and write. Maybe someday everything will have been converted to acronyms. I can picture it now. Well, if you watch your kids text, they are already doing it. Maybe it makes you ROFL, but I often shake my head confused.

So, getting BOT (back on topic), the rule for using periods with acronyms is pretty simple. Just leave them out for ones with capital letters, even if they have lowercase letters in there somewhere: US, UN, PhD, NY, IL, and so on.

Abbreviations have some differences, so if you are using an abbreviation that uses lowercase letters, you normally keep the period in: a.m., p.m., i.e., etc., etc. Chicago lists a.k.a. but Webster’s uses aka. I prefer the latter, since simpler and shorter is better to me.

If you’re writing a name with initials for the first and middle names, you’d use periods, such as in my name, C. S. Lakin (there is always a space between the first two initials but not when using three initials, like G.R.R. Martin). However, you would use just letters when a complete name has been changed into initials, like JFK.

Should you ever spell out an acronym? If you’re not too sure the term is universally understood, and you plan to refer to it numerous times in your writing, yes, spell it out the first time, and after that just use the acronym. A good way to do that is to use the acronym, then spell it out in parentheses following.

If you still need more on this topic, RTM (read the manual). Happy abbreviating!


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  1. Thanks for the info on the periods and initials. I don’t remember seeing those before. As for the acronyms, give me the old days when our conversations were built around quality and not quantity.

  2. Thank you C. S. 🙂
    I often wonder about using acronyms and whether to use periods or not… so this was good to know!
    I know that in the US they use a period after Mr. Mrs. Ms. etc. however, in Australia (where I’m from originally) they don’t. So sometimes I’m not certain whether to follow my country of origin, or my new country (Canada which is a bit of a jumbled mix between US English rules and British English rules!)
    Also, thank you for your age quip, made me laugh out loud! (and I appreciate the gift of a laugh more than anything!) 🙂
    Ali Jayne

    1. Thank you! I always give tips with US in mind since, yep, this is where I live. But of the thousands that read my blog, the UK is second, so I need to keep aware of the UK folks reading (and they often pop in and share their style rules). I have to remind myself when editing UK not to put the periods in after Mr, Mrs, and Ms, and with French you have M. for monsieur but Mme and Mlle for Madame and Mademoiselle (based on Monsieur considered not abbreviated the way the other two words are). Needless to say, there are all kinds of rules out there but you choose which audience/country you are writing to and adjust accordingly.

  3. Great information. I still have the first published book of zip codes that we sold at my high school as a fund raiser. Now I’ll go and check out some of those acronyms above that I don’t know. LOL

    Beth Havey

  4. What about academic degrees? I saw PhD in your list, but I still have trouble with that. I’ve been told mine would be an M.Ed., but the official college version was MAED. Help! What should my degree “look like” as an acronym?

  5. When I enter my diary entries in my blog, A 1961-65 Park College Diary, I frequently write about the five social clubs that we had on our campus in the 1960s – the Anthony-Cleopatra Club (ACCs), Lancelot-Elaine Club (LECs), Lowell-Lucerne Club (LLCs), Orion-Aurora Club (OACs), and the Parchevard-Calliopean Club (PCCs). The social clubs took the place of sororities and fraternities at Park.

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