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Acronyms and abbreviations

A useful distinction between acronyms and abbreviations is that an acronym is formed from the initial letters in a phrase or name which is pronounced as one word, such as «Sintef». An abbreviation may be formed in the same way, but this is read letter-by-letter, like «NTNU». With familiarity, an abbreviation may change into an acronym. An example is «U.N.E.S.C.O.», written originally as initial letters with stops, and read letter-by-letter, that has developed into today's acronym «UNESCO». Thus an acronym is treated as one word and has no stops. Some acronyms are used so much that it is often difficult to remember that they are acronyms. Examples are «AIDS» (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) and «HIV» (human immunodeficiency virus). This may also lead to mistakes like writing «HIV-virus». Most acronyms are written in capital letters, but a few are in lower case and are scarcely recognizable as acronyms as they are treated as everyday words. Examples of these are: «laser» (light amplification by simulated emission of radiation) and «radar» (radio detection and ranging). Market researchers love to produce acronyms like «YUP» (Young Urban Professional) that occasionally survive and generate everyday words, written in lower case, like «yuppie» and «yuppiefying the Labour party». Some of the acronyms that are widely adopted are carefully chosen to make suitable words that buzz like «WASP» (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant). In business, people are urged to do things «ASAP» (as soon as possible) and dictionaries on computer terms are full of acronyms like GIGO (garbage in, garbage out).

Norwegian abbreviations and acronyms like «NTNU» and «Sintef» are used in English together with their English translations. This means that the correct abbreviation for the Norwegian University of Science and Technology is NTNU, not «NUST». This follows the practice in the UN, the European Commission and elsewhere where institutions often mix their English names with an abbreviation/acronym that is from French or German. Another example of this is Système International d'Unites, which in English is called the International System of Units, and the abbreviation SI is used in all languages.

Many people use the word acronym for abbreviations formed from the initials of companies, organizations and states such as: «IBM», the «EU» and the «USA». These abbreviations are written without stops and are read letter-by-letter, with stress on the last letter. Note that there may be differences between Norwegian and English here. For example, «VIP» is read as a three-letter abbreviation in English, not as an acronym as in Norwegian. As it may be difficult for foreigners to understand Norwegian acronyms like «KUF» and «KAD» in an oral presentation, it is best to avoid them in English.

Another type of abbreviation is formed by writing the first letter or a few of the letters in a word, but are read as a whole word. Examples: «m» (metre), «dept.» (department), «asst.» (assistant), «Fre.» (Friday) and «Mr» (Mister), «Dr» (Doctor). Note that the last two have stops in AE.

Plurals of abbreviations are often formed with an «s» as in: no., nos. (number/s); fig., figs.(figure/s); eq., eqs. (equation/s); hr., hrs (hour/s); km., kms. (kilometre/s). Note the plural of p., is pp. (pages).

Finally, some Norwegian abbreviations have no English equivalents. Thus check that abbreviations exist before you start to confuse your readers with some of the home-grown varieties I have seen, such as: t.m. (Norw. d.m), i.o.w. (Norw. m.a.o.) and w.r.t, (Norw. m.h.t.).

Tricky words

Compare to, compare with (Norw. «sammenligne med»)
Compare to is used to show likeness. This may be between two people but is often between a person and an object. As Shakespeare said: «Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?». With compare to, a likeness is figurative. You can compare a person's voice to thunder, an unfortunate face to the back of a bus, or as the great Bard did, compare the world to a stage.

Compare with is used to show the similarity or dissimilarity between things. Such as: «Nightlife in Tromsø is often compared with Paris», or «One can hardly compare church architecture in Oslo with that of Rome». An example of the difference between compare to and compare with is that if most modern dramatists are compared with Shakespeare, they will soon find out how much they have to learn. If one of them compares himself to Shakespeare, he had better consult a psychiatrist.

Enlightening English

«Let us treat your pictures from your trip».  (Ad. from Foto Schrøder, Trondheim) «Selbusjøen Båtcruice». (On side of MS Jøvra)

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