WTF. You’re using acronyms wrong.

Thomas Brown
4 min readApr 30, 2019

If you’ve ever been in the military, or worked in corporate America, or know any tween-age girls, you probably hear more abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms than you want to or even understand. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the language we use has become much terser. This isn’t an American phenomenon either. Die Fantastichen Vier, a classic German hip-hop group, have a great and catchy example with a song that is almost entirely acronyms and initialisms:

However, not all abbreviations are acronyms. In fact, the majority of social media and texting abbreviations are not really acronyms at all, but initialisms. WTF (What The Fuck), is not an acronym. POTUS (President Of The United States), is an acronym. So what exactly is the difference? How you pronounce them.


An acronym is an new word made up of the initial letters or syllables of other words. It has to be pronounceable as a new, unique, and independent word. These are acronyms:

  • NASA — National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • YOLO — You Only Live Once
  • ASAP — As Soon As Possible
  • NIMBY — Not In My BackYard

Some of my personal favorite examples:

  • FUBAR — Fucked Up Beyond Recognition
  • SNAFU — Situation Normal, All Fucked Up (fun fact: my spellcheck accepts snafu as a word but not fubar)
  • BAMF — Bad Ass Mother Fucker


An initialism is a type of abbreviation that cannot be pronounced as a word, and instead must be read or letter-by-letter. For instance:

  • OMG — Oh, My God
  • BRB — Be Right Back
  • CIA — Central Intelligence Agency
  • LMAO — Laughing My Ass Off

Some of my personal favorite examples:

  • STFU — Shut The Fuck Up
  • NSFW — Not Safe For Work
  • SOL — Shit Outta Luck

While abbreviating words and phrases has become much more prominent and popular in the last century…