Meaning of ABBREVIATION in English


in communications (especially written), the process or result of representing a word or group of words by a shorter form of the word or phrase. Abbreviations take many forms and can be found in ancient Greek inscriptions, in medieval manuscripts (e.g., "DN" for "Dominus Noster"), and in the Qur'an. Cicero's secretary, Marcus Tullius Tiro, devised many abbreviations that have survived to modern times, such as the character ampersand, &, for et (Latin: "and"). But it was the so-called information explosion of the 20th century that made abbreviation a common practice in communication. A major factor in the trend toward abbreviation is that of economy. In telegraphy, for example, as well as in computerized communications, the extra time, space, and materials required for rendering long words and phrases is an important concern. Fortunately, redundancy of information exists in all speech, and this redundancy increases dramatically if the context is not known or if the message is long. Scientific studies indicate that up to 75 percent of all information in relatively long communications is redundant, and this knowledge makes abbreviation not only possible but convenient. Another factor in the development of abbreviations is the proliferation of new products and organizations that need to be named. Long descriptive terms can be shortened into mnemonic units. The need for speed in shorthand and the desire to avoid redundancy in codes makes abbreviation an important element in stenography and cryptography as well. There are several important forms of abbreviation. One form entails representing a single word either by its first letter or first few letters (as "n" for "noun," or "Co." for "Company"), by its most important letters (as "Ltd." for "Limited"), or by its first and last letters (as "Rd." for "Road"). These abbreviations are usually spoken as the whole word they represent (though Ltd. is sometimes spoken as "el-tee-dee"). Truncation is especially common in popular speech, as, for example, "Mets" for "Metropolitans." The combination of the first syllables or letters of component words within phrases or within names having more than one word is common and often produces acronyms, which are pronounced as words and which often cease to be considered abbreviations. An example of this type of abbreviation is the word flak (from German Fliegerabwehrkanone, "antiaircraft cannon"). Such combinations are especially common in the U.S. military, which has provided "NORAD" for "North American Aerospace Defense Command." An example from the Soviet era is "Narkomvneshtorg" for "Narodny Komissariat Vneshney Torgovli" (Russian: "People's Commissariate of Foreign Trade"). Other popular acronyms are the well-known "radar" ("radio detecting and ranging") and "snafu" ("situation normal, all fouled up"). Acronyms are to be distinguished from initialisms such as U.S.A. and NCAA, which are spoken by reciting their letters. The symbolic notations used in mathematics and other sciences may also be regarded as forms of abbreviation.

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