ARTICLES IN THE BOOK
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An abbreviation (from Latin brevis "short") is a shortened form of a word or phrase. Usually, but not always, it consists of a letter or group of letters taken from the word or phrase. For example, the word "abbreviation" can itself be represented by the abbreviation "abbr." or "abbrev."
Apart from the common form of shortening one word, there are other types of abbreviations. These include acronym and initialism (including three-letter acronyms), apocope, clipping, elision, syncope, syllabic abbreviation, and portmanteau.
A syllabic abbreviation (SA) is an abbreviation formed from (usually) initial syllables of seven words, such as Interpol for International police, but should be distinguished from portmanteaux. They are usually written in lower case, sometimes starting with a capital letter, and are always pronounced as words rather than letter by letter.
Syllabic abbreviations are not widely used in English or French, but are common in certain languages, like German and Russian.
They prevailed in Germany under the Nazis and in the Soviet Union for naming the plethora of new bureaucratic organizations. For example, Gestapo stands for Geheime Staats-Polizei, or "secret state police". This has given syllabic abbreviations a negative connotation, even though they were used in Germany before the Nazis, such as Schupo for Schutzpolizist. Even now Germans call part of their police Kripo for Kriminalpolizei. Syllabic abbreviations were also typical of German language used in the German Democratic Republic, for example, Stasi for Staatssicherheit ("state security", the secret police and secret service) or Vopo for Volkspolizist ("people's policeman").
Some syllabic abbreviations from Russian that are familiar to English speakers include samizdat and kolkhoz. The English names for the Soviet "Comintern" (Communist International) and "Milrevcom" (Military Revolution Committee) are further examples.
Orwell's novel 1984 uses fictional syllabic abbreviations like "Ingsoc" (English Socialism) to evoke the use of language under the Nazi and Soviet regimes.
East Asian languages whose writing uses Chinese-originated ideograms instead of an alphabet form abbreviations similarly by using key characters from a term or phrase. For example, in Japanese the term for the United Nations, kokusai rengō (国際連合) is often abbreviated to kokuren (国連). Another classic example is shogun. Such abbreviations are called ryakugo (略語) in Japanese. SAs are frequently used for names of universities: for instance, Beida (北大, Běidà) for Peking University (Beijing), Yondae (연대) for the Yonsei University, Seouldae (서울대) for the Seoul National University and Tōdai (東大) for the University of Tokyo.
Syllabic abbreviations are preferred by the US Navy as it increases readability amidst the large number of initialisms that would otherwise have to fit into the same acronyms. Hence DESRON 6 is used (in the full capital form) to mean "Destroyer Squadron 6," and DEFCON means "Defense Condition".
In modern English there are several conventions for abbreviations and the choice may be confusing. The only rule universally accepted is that one should be consistent, and to make this easier, publishers express their preferences in a style guide. Questions which arise include those in the following subsections.
If the original word was capitalized, then the first letter of its abbreviation should retain the capital, for example Lev. for Leviticus. When abbreviating words spelled with lower case letters, there is no need for capitalization, therefore no need for a consistent rule.
A period (full stop) is sometimes written after an abbreviated word, but there is much disagreement and many exceptions.
There is never a stop/period between letters of the same word. For example, Tiberius is abbreviated as Tb. and not as T.b..
In formal British English it is more common to write abbreviations with full stops if the word has been cut at the point of abbreviation but not otherwise: for example, Street — "St[reet]" — becomes "St.", but "Saint" — "S[ain]t" — becomes "St".
In American English, the period is usually added if the abbreviation may be interpreted as a word, but some American writers do not use a period here. Sometimes, periods are used for certain acronyms but not others; a notable instance in American English is to write United States, European Union, and United Nations as U.S., EU, and UN respectively.
A third standard removes the full stops from all abbreviations (both "Saint" and "Street" become "St") .
Acronyms that were originally capitalized (with or without periods) but have since entered the vocabulary as generic words are no longer abbreviated with capital letters nor with any periods. Examples are sonar, radar, lidar, laser, and scuba.
Spaces are generally not used between single letter abbreviations of words in the same phrase, so one almost never encounters "U. S.".
In informal use, an apostrophe followed by an s is sometimes added to an abbreviation to make a plural. For example, compact discs is sometimes abbreviated to "CDs" and sometimes to "CD's". This is incorrect grammatically but sometimes is added to make it clear that the s is not part of the abbreviation. (An alternative way to make a plural is by repeating the last letter; see subsection "Miscellaneous" below.)
Because the apostrophe most often represents possession or a contraction, some style guides prefer that it not be used at all with abbreviations, but only with individual letters — "Dot all your i's and cross all your t's!" — or numbers — "The dyslexic student mixes up his S's and 5's." Thus numbers, such as decades, that are understood to represent other concepts, are not written with apostrophes either — "The U.S. enjoyed an economic boom in the 1990s and the Roaring ’20s", referring to decades, or "I am going to the bank to exchange four 5s for two 10s", where the 5s and 10s refer to banknotes.
However, the apostrophe is used to pluralize all lowercase letters and capitalized vowels. Therefore, one would write, "there were four A's in the class, but only two Fs." One would also write, "the dyslexic student confused his b's and d's." For all other situation an "s" is added to pluralize the word, including acronyms and numbers.
Publications based in the U.S. tend to follow the style guides of the Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press. The U.S. Government follows a style guide published by the U.S. Government Printing Office.
However, there is some inconsistency in abbreviation styles, as they are not rigorously defined by style guides. Some two-word abbreviations, like "United Nations", are abbreviated with uppercase letters and periods, and others, like "personal computer" (PC) and "compact disc" (CD), are not; rather, they are typically abbreviated without periods and in uppercase letters. A third variation is to use lowercase letters with periods; this is used by Time Magazine in abbreviating "public relations" (p.r.). Moreover, even three-word abbreviations (most U.S. publications use uppercase abbreviations without periods) are sometimes not consistently abbreviated, even within the same article.
The New York Times is unique in having a consistent style by always abbreviating with periods: P.C., I.B.M., P.R. This is in contrast with the trend of British publications to completely make do without periods for convenience.
Many British publications follow some of these guidelines in abbreviation:
The International System of Units (SI) defines a set of base units, from which other "derived" units may be obtained. The abbreviations, or more accurately "symbols" (using Roman letters, or Greek in the case of ohm) for these units are also clearly defined together with a set of prefixes, themselves symbolised (abbreviated) with Roman letters (except only for micro, which uses the Greek letter µ), denoting powers of ten. The system is internationally recognised. Periods are not used, except as described below. Unit symbols do not have plural forms.
Units are written either in full, including the base units and their prefixes, or with all symbols. When a unit is written in full, it is written in all lower case. For example, megaampere for MA.
There should never be a period after or inside a unit; both 10 k.m. and 10 k.m are wrong — the only correct form is 10 km (only followed with a period when at the end of a sentence).
A period "within" a compound unit denotes multiplication of the base units on each side of it. Ideally, this period should be raised to the centre of the line, but often it is not. For instance, 5 ms means 5 millisecond(s), whereas 5 m.s means 5 metre·second(s). The "m.s" here is a compound unit formed from the product of two fundamental SI units — metre and second.
There should always be a (non-breaking) space between the number and the unit — 25 km is correct, and 25km is incorrect.
The case of letters (uppercase or lowercase) has meaning in the SI system, and should never be changed in a misguided attempt to follow an abbreviation style. For example, "10 S" denotes 10 siemens (a unit of conductance), while "10 s" denotes 10 seconds. Any unit named after a person is denoted by a symbol with an upper case first letter (S, Pa, A, V, N, Wb, W), but spelt out in full in lower case, (siemens, pascal, ampere, volt, newton, weber and watt). By contrast g, l, m, s, cd, h represent gramme, litre, metre, second, candela and hectare respectively. The one slight exception to this rule is that the symbol for litre is allowed to be L to help avoid confusion with an upper case i or a one in some typefaces — compare l, I, and 1.
Likewise, the abbreviations of the prefixes denoting powers of ten are case-sensitive: m (milli) represents a thousandth, but M (mega) represents a million, so by inadvertent changes of case one may introduce (in this example) an error of a factor of 1 000 000 000. When a unit is written in full, the whole unit is written in lowercase, including the prefix: millivolt for mV, nanometre for nm, gigacandela for Gcd.
The above rules, if followed, ensure that the SI system is always unambiguous, so for instance mK denotes millikelvin, MK denotes megakelvin, K.m denotes kelvin.metre, and km denotes kilometre. Forms such as k.m and kms are ill-formed and technically meaningless in the SI system, although the meaning might be inferred from the context.
After World War II, the British greatly reduced their use of the full stop and other punctuations after abbreviations in at least semi-formal writing, while the Americans more readily kept its use until more recently, and still maintain it more than Britons. The classic example, considered by their American counterparts quite curious, was the maintenance of the internal comma in a British organization of secret agents called the "Special Operations, Executive" — "S.O.E." — which is not found in histories written after about 1960.
But before that, many Britons were more scrupulous at maintaining the French form. In French, the period only follows an abbreviation if the last letter in the abbreviation is not the last letter of its antecedent: "M." is the abbreviation for "monsieur" while "Mme" is that for "Madame" and "Mlle" for "Mademoiselle". Like many other cross-channel linguistic acquisitions, many Britons readily took this up and followed this rule themselves, while the Americans took a simpler rule and applied it rigorously.
Over the years, however, the lack of convention in some style guides has made it difficult to determine which two-word abbreviations should be abbreviated with periods and which should not. The U.S. media tend to abbreviate two-word abbreviations like United States (U.S.), but not personal computer (PC) or television (TV), which is a source of confusion. Many British publications have gradually done away with the use of periods in abbreviations completely.
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