IMO: abbreviations and acronyms

Group of a students chatting with their smartphonesDo you suffer from FOMO? Well, IMO, you’re not alone. If you fear missing out on the latest new words, then you’ve come to the right place. FOMO (fear of missing out) and IMO (in my opinion) are both abbreviations to be found in Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries online. More are added every few months as the content is updated.

Many of these abbreviations come from text messages, emails and social media, where people want to respond immediately and communicate quickly. Brevity is important, especially with Twitter, where there is a limit of 140 characters per tweet. They are often abbreviations for common colloquial expressions, keeping up the informal, often personal and subjective nature of these electronic communications.

Among recent additions to our dictionary are:

AFAIC
ICYMI
IIRC
TBH

Do you use these? If so, then you probably know that the letters stand for:

as far as I’m concerned
in case you missed it
if I recall correctly
to be honest

Some abbreviations, such as FOMO, are also acronyms, that is, they are spoken as a word, not a series of letters, and become words in their own right.

[British English]

[American English]

In the lead up to the American elections in 2016, the words POTUS (President of the United States) and FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States; Word of the Month, January 2017), were in frequent use. Slightly less well used is SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States). All are easy to read and pronounce. They are recognizable and space-saving in journalism and the media, where they are chiefly used.

British politics is full of abbreviations. Not all of them are memorable, but JAM has been on everyone’s lips since the Prime Minister Theresa May drew attention to those people who are ‘just about managing’ in society.

In the field of economics, two popular acronyms are BRIC and, more recently, MINT. These words are composed from the initials of countries grouped together: the fast-growing economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and a newer group of economic interest, Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey. The term MINT was coined in 2014 by the economist Jim O’Neill, who was also the first to spot the huge potential of the BRIC countries and predict how the world would change.

Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey – MINT – could become the new name on people’s lips, and further overturn the old world order.

In education, the term STEM is a useful acronym for the key subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, now central to many curricula worldwide. We derive STEAM from this, which includes and recognizes the importance of the Arts in this curriculum. Both acronyms make it easy for people to write about and discuss these topics. Mint, jam, stem and steam are existing words in their own right, helping to make the acronyms memorable, even though there are no connections in meaning. In language teaching CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) is a well-known term that describes learning a subject through the medium of another language, a method which aims to improve language learning by giving it context.

Read any newspaper article and it will be full of abbreviations, often unfamiliar or specific only to the subject written about, in which case the full form is usually given the first time the abbreviation is used. However, other abbreviations are common because the subjects are important or topical. Three that have been added to our dictionaries website recently are FGM (female genital mutilation), LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer or questioning). These topics, relating to society and culture, can cause controversy and consternation, and generate much discussion, as rights, legislation and changes are debated.

I hope you’ve read this blog to the end, and not been tempted to mark it TL;DR (too long; didn’t read or too long; don’t read). Look out for these and other abbreviations at Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries online, and do send us your suggestions in the comments box below.


Check out all the new words and meanings added to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries site this month here.


Victoria Bull is a Senior Editor in ELT Dictionaries at OUP. She taught EFL and ESOL in FE colleges in London before coming to Oxford in 2004.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s