Origin of abbreviation
Abbreviations may be nearly as old as writing itself; they allow a writer to save time, space, and effort. The cost of materials like parchment, paper, and ink was another major impetus to shorten words and phrases. Even with the invention of the printing press, cost remained important, and printers looked for ways to save space without diluting the message. Many abbreviations have become standard, including abbreviations for days of the week ( Mon., Tues. ) and months of the year ( Jan., Feb. ); common Latin terms ( lb., e.g. ); units of time and measurement ( min., ft. ); titles of individuals ( Mrs., Rev. ); and titles or names of organizations ( NCAA, UNESCO ), government bodies ( SCOTUS, EPA ), and states and cities ( Pa., NYC ).
The usual practice in American English is to use a period to end any abbreviation that stands for a single word: for example, assoc. or assn. for association ), whereas in British English the period is typically omitted if the abbreviation includes the last letter of the word. For example, in British writing the word association might be abbreviated as either assoc. or assn (without the period); likewise, Fr. is an abbreviation for France, while Fr (no period) is the abbreviation for Father (as the title for a priest).
Phrases are typically abbreviated by using the first letters or initial portions of each word or each important word, usually without any periods. Similarly, a single long word is sometimes abbreviated with the initial letters of component parts of the word. Unlike ordinary abbreviations for single words, which are almost always read as if the word were spelled out (as by reading “Dr.” as “Doctor” and “lb.” as “pound”), abbreviations consisting of initials are usually read as written—either letter by letter or as a single word. An abbreviation that is pronounced letter by letter, like FBI for Federal Bureau of Investigation or DOD for Department of Defense or TV for television, is referred to as an initialism.
Many abbreviations for phrases, however, are pronounced as words: for example, NATO for N(orth) A(tlantic) T(reaty) O(rganization) or radar for ra(dio) d(etecting) a(nd) r(anging). This type of abbreviation is called an acronym. Some acronyms, like radar, laser, scuba, and Gestapo, have become so accepted as normal words that most people are unaware of their acronymic origins. In many cases an official name may be chosen purely to create an appropriate and catchy acronym, as in the federal "Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act" of 2010 (the "CALM Act").
In a loose sense, initialism can refer to any abbreviation composed of initials, even if pronounced as a word; conversely, acronym has been widely adopted to refer to any such abbreviation, even if it is pronounced letter by letter. But the distinction between true acronyms (pronounced as words) and pure initialisms (said letter by letter), is a useful one. To complicate the issue, however, there are hybrid forms—part initialism, part acronym—like CD-ROM ( [see-dee-rom] /ˈsiˌdiˈrɒm/ ) and JPEG [jey-peg] /ˈdʒeɪˌpɛg/ )—for which one term is as good as the other.
With the increasing popularity of email, text messaging, and social media, people—especially young people—have found new ways to save time and space, bond with friends through use of in-group jargon, and keep their communications opaque to prying parental eyes, by using initialisms to represent common expressions. Among the most popular are OMG (Oh my God), BTW (by the way), AFAIK (as far as I know), LOL (laughing out loud), ROTFL (rolling on the floor laughing), IMHO (in my humble opinion), FWIW (for what it’s worth), TTYL (talk to you later), and bff (best friends forever). BTW, IMHO, the rest of the population is catching on fast. OMG!
Examples from the Web for abbreviations
I loved the simplicity of it, I loved the autonomy of it, and I loved the language of abbreviations that instant messaging has.
And Luke taught me all of the abbreviations: “brb” means “be right back,” “U2” means “you too,” “g2g” means “got to go.”
That is, I almost never encounter students who write “U” instead of “you” or use smiley faces or abbreviations like “LOL.”
For convenience, abbreviations are used for the names of elements and compounds.Encyclopedia of Diet|Eugene Christian
With the abbreviations and spelling, as it was taken from the plate itself, June 28th, 1751.Gleanings in Graveyards|Horatio Edward Norfolk
It is suitable also for problems of limited scope, for which certain modifications or abbreviations are required.Sound Military Decision|U.s. Naval War College
"Structural Botany" has six pages of abbreviations of the names of botanists, mostly of botanical authors.The Elements of Botany|Asa Gray
Other abbreviations that hardly need explanation are Cf. (confer, compare), Fol.Shakespeare's Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet|William Shakespeare
British Dictionary definitions for abbreviations
Word Origin and History for abbreviations
mid-15c., from Middle French abréviation (15c.), from Late Latin abbreviationem (nominative abbreviatio), noun of action from past participle stem of abbreviare "make brief," from Latin ad "to" (see ad-) + breviare "shorten," from brevis "short, low, little, shallow" (see brief (adj.)).
Culture definitions for abbreviations
A shortened form of an expression, usually followed by a period. Dr. is a standard abbreviation for Doctor; MA is a standard abbreviation for Massachusetts.