Tag Archives: acronyms

Typesetting Acronyms

Should you set acronyms in small caps like some style guides suggest?

Computer says no.

This nonsense, promulgated by snobs like that bore Bringhurst who have not read anything written after Jane Austen croaked, ostensibly improves typographic colour. What it actually does is inhibit reading: Acronyms are not regular words. All-small-caps setting fools the reader into thinking an acronym is a real world. That discomfort you feel is a reverse fixation you underwent trying to reread the word.

This was always a bad idea, but it’s much worse with abbreviations that mix case (ATypI) and, indeed, with alphanumeric abbreviations (H1N1). Then what happens when you pluralize one of those? Plural s is almost exactly the height of the small caps.

But wait. You say. Acronyms are initialisations designed to be read as words.

Or there’s the equally nonsensical habit of using small caps solely for word-pronounceable acronyms, some of which are mated to acronyms you read letter by letter.

Like this example:

The conclusion…

Use of small caps for acronyms and abbreviations is a surefire indication your compositor is a snob. Stop acting like acronyms are dirt you need to sweep under the rug.

Acronyms v Initialisms

Just so you know… if you reduce a series of words to initials and pronounce them as a word it’s an acronym, and if you pronounce each letter individually it’s an initialism.

So when I write a headline using an acronym it’s your job to read it as a word so that you get the pun.

Ironically, TLA the popular “acronym” for three letter acronyms isn’t an acronym, it’s an initialism. 

Thanks. That is all.