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Initialisms With ‘&’ Need a Name

In a recent e-mail, a senior editor at The Chronicle, Don Troop, asked a simple question:

Is there a term to describe abbreviations like R&R, R&D, B&B, etc.?

To our surprise, there isn’t.

So, LF readers, to the rescue!

Our resident grammarian, Geoffrey Pullum, co-author of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, confirms the gap:

“I don’t know of any term for them. Orthographically they’re just initialisms that happen to contain the ampersand. Syntactically, using CGEL’s terminology, they’re just coordinations in which the coordinates happen to be one-letter initialisms.”

Initialisms, as their name indicates, are abbreviations made by combining the initial letters of words, pronounced letter by letter as in USA, FBI, NBC. They are sometimes differentiated from acronyms, where the combination of initials is pronounced as if it were a single word: scuba, radar, AWOL, NIMBY, MOOC. But sometimes the term “acronym” is used to include initialisms too. It can get confusing.

In any case, neither “acronym” nor “initialism” precisely labels entities like Q&A. PB&J, R&B; texting abbreviations like a&f (always and forever), h&k (hugs and kisses); company names like A&E, A&F, A&P, D&RGW, PG&E, and AT&T.

There’s no label that singles out initialisms with ampersands. And that makes them hard to locate with a search engine.

So this is where our Lingua Franca readers come in. It’s an  opportunity to fill a real gap in grammatical terminology. If someone comes up with a good enough term, there’s a good chance it will actually be used.

That’s what happened with acronym, in fact. It’s a term that wasn’t invented until the 20th century, but it caught on because something was needed to label a noteworthy category of vocabulary. It also happens to have a meaning implied by its component parts: acro “height” or “peak” and nym meaning “name.”

A successful name shouldn’t be too exotic or clever, however. If the name is weird, or funny, people may laugh at the joke but won’t be inclined to use it. So I don’t think “abbramper,” for example, would catch on.

But what about it? What name would you give to the coordinations consisting of “&” with initialisms?

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