ATM Modernization, Business & GA, Commercial, Military

AFE: (Acronyms Forever)

By David Jensen | December 1, 2002
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What happens when you are in an industry that involves aerospace, computers and the military? For one thing, when you read industry literature, you become inundated with acronyms, initialisms and abbreviations.

I’m not sure why this is so. Perhaps it is because there is an intrinsic need to spell out exactly what a program, technology or product is, and then after realizing what a mouth-twisting title has been created, the title’s authors subsequently convert it into an acronym, initialism or abbreviation. I also suspect that, many times, an acronym was created first, and then the words were conveniently concocted to legitimize it.

Regardless, a long list of acronyms, initialisms and abbreviations exist in the world of aerospace electronics, and because there are so many, we have decided to swap our usual editorial coverage for a glossary, which we hope will help you in months to come. We know we’re not the first to think of this idea; Rockwell Collins, for example, regularly produces a handy glossary that is nearly 100 pages in length. It is published, Collins explains, to help persons speak "avionics-ese" or "av-speak."

We have tried to make our glossary comprehensive, using as a base acronyms, initialisms and abbreviations provided by ARINC Inc., to whom we extend our appreciation. To that, we have added listings from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Eurocontrol Web sites, plus letter groupings from the pages of our past issues.

Does this exhaust the letter combinations in our industry? Hardly. We know more exist and suspect others are being created even as this is written. It’s unrelenting.

People in aviation even joke about the glut of acronyms in our industry–and well they should. Consider in our glossary (page 30) the acronym, GDAP, which we did not make up. It stands for "growing danger of acronym proliferation." Honest.

Most people refer to letter groupings taken from word groupings as acronyms. The term, initialism, seldom is used and even is not recognized in some dictionaries. However, The Oxford English Dictionary defines an initialism as "a group of initial letters used as an abbreviation for a name or expression, each letter or part being announced separately." Initialisms in our industry would include CPDLC (controller-pilot data link communications), IFR (instrument flight rules) and OEM (original equipment manufacturer.

Abbreviation is another term seldom used when referring to aviation letter combinations. But we have plenty of shortened words, as abbreviations are defined. Consider, for example, NAV, COMM and ALT, for altitude or altimeter.

An acronym–from the Greek words akros (meaning top) and onyma (meaning name)–is a letter grouping that creates another word or phrase. Examples include COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) and ACARS (airborne communications addressing and reporting system).

Acronyms are more interesting than abbreviations and initialisms. Although they were employed long ago, reportedly by medieval Jewish scholars, their widespread use dates back only to World War II. In fact, the first known use of the word, acronym, is found in the February 1943 issue of a publication titled American Notes and Queries.

The U.S. military embraced acronyms, starting in World War II. For instance, it adopted the letter grouping, AWOL (absent without leave), at least as far back as World War I (1914-1918), but the pronunciation, "A-Wall," did not enter the military lexicon until the 1940s. Before then, the letters were pronounced individually, as an initialism: A-W-O-L.

What also makes acronyms interesting is that they can supersede the words they represent. Many of you may have forgotten, for example, that radar is an acronym for "radio detection and ranging," or that laser represents "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation." Doubtlessly, few people who engage in underwater exploration know that scuba stands for "self-contained underwater breathing apparatus."

Some acronyms even rise to become well-known brand names. Take Jeep, which somehow derives from "general purpose, quarter-ton military utility vehicle." Today, Jeep is a popular brand of SUVs (sport utility vehicles), which is an initialism.

How many letter groupings exist in the world? No one knows. However, there does exist a weighty reference called the Acronyms, Initialisms and Abbreviations Dictionary. It comprises four volumes, each with more than 1,100 pages and at least 200 listings per page. Roughly, that adds up to a total of 880,000 acronyms, initialisms and abbreviations. Our glossary contains only about 2,170 acronyms, initialisms and abbreviations.

Will we produce future glossaries? Perhaps, but we do not plan to make this an annual offering. We hope this reference will serve you well for at least two years, preferably more. That was our intent.

Evans Awarded–Again

It’s happened again. His trophy mantle must sag from the weight.

After winning the 2002 Jesse H. Neal Award for best regularly published column and then the 2002 Royal Aeronautical Society Award for best avionics coverage, our Safety in Avionics columnist, David Evans, has been honored again. On Nov. 6, at the Flight Safety Foundation Seminar in Dublin, Ireland, he was the recipient of the annual Cecil A. Brownlow Award for excellence in aviation journalism. David provides a valuable service, covering the most critical topic in aviation, safety, and we’re proud to have him on our team.

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