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From AAA to ZZT

The flood of ACRs and otber abbrev.s in ICT is growing


Milon Gupta

It is still open, which earth-shaking innovations the European Union’s Framework Programme 7 (FP7) and other European research efforts will generate in the future. One thing, however, is certain: there will be a flood of new acronyms and other abbreviations, when the next European ICT research projects indulge in their innovative work.

Even today, the number of abbreviations is already impressive. The web portal lists more than 4 million acronyms, initialisms and other abbreviations. The contribution of information and communication technologies (ICT) is considerable, although there are no exact figures.

FP6 project acronyms

There are 937 projects in the European Union’ Framework Programme 6 (FP6) listed on the website of CORDIS (Community Research and Development Information Service). Each of these projects has a project acronym, which often represents a long title.

Take, for example, this one: “Accurate Diagnosis of prostate cancer using Optoacoustic detection of biologically functionalized gold Nanoparticles – a new Integrated biosensor System”; project acronym “ADONIS”. This already shows an important function of acronyms in research: they save time in reading and talking, and they save print space. In the above example, 19 words with 134 characters are reduced to one word with 6 characters.

In addition to inventing a catchy project acronym for themselves, research projects also develop numerous technology-related abbreviations for standards, systems, applications, and other subjects. The FP6 project SECOQC (Development of a global network for secure communication based on quantum cryptography), for instance, has developed the abbreviation QKD, which stand for Quantum Key Distribution and is not yet to be found in the Acronym Finder portal.

Acronyms and initialisms

According to the definition on Wikipedia, QKD would not be classified as an acronym, but as an initialism. The difference is that acronyms are pronounced as a word, like, for example, WIMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, Inc. [group promoting the IEEE 802.16 wireless broadband standard]). Initialisms, in contrast, are abbreviations formed of the initial letters of a combination of words, which are pronounced as separate letters, like GPRS (General Packet Radio Service).

The example of GPRS shows one problem which initialisms, but also acronyms, create: they have different meanings to different people. GPRS has the following alternative meanings: Global Packet Radio Service, Generalized Partial Response Signalling, Global Personnel Recovery System, Grant Proposal & Research Services, Ground Penetrating Radar System. Another problem is that most technical acronyms do not mean anything to the user, although he is proudly buying a GPRS-enabled mobile phone.

The advantage of the vast majority of acronyms and initialisms is that they are short. However, there are remarkable exceptions – fortunately outside of the ICT sector – which show that bureaucracies are a very fertile ground for the growth of abbreviations.

In the 1965 edition of the Acronyms, Initialisms and Abbreviations Dictionary, the following acronym can be found: ADCOMSUBORDCOMPHIBSPAC. This is a United States Navy term that stands for "Administrative Command, Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet Subordinate Command" and is regarded as the world’s longest acronym.

The world's longest initialism, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is NIIOMTPLABOPARMBETZHELBETRABSBOMONIMONKONOTDTEKHSTROMONT. The 56-letter initialism (54 in Cyrillic) is from the Concise Dictionary of Soviet Terminology and means:

"The laboratory for shuttering, reinforcement, concrete and ferroconcrete operations for composite-monolithic and monolithic constructions of the Department of the Technology of Building-assembly operations of the Scientific Research Institute of the Organization for building mechanization and technical aid of the Academy of Building and Architecture of the USSR."

Back to ICT: some readers may have wondered about the meaning of the initialisms in the headline. The first one, AAA, is relatively well-known in ICT, and means Authentication, Authorization, and Accounting. However, it also has 249 other meanings from very different topical contexts. The second initialism, ZZT, is less common and stands for Zoo of Zero Tolerance, which is a game creation system. The only other meaning is ZZ Top, the name of a famous US blues rock band. By the way, the letters ZZ does not stand for anything in particular, with the effect that devotees are still pondering on various theories about their meaning.


The conclusion is that there is still ample scope for further acronyms (ACRs) and initialisms. Soon, all ICT services, applications and devices might just have an abbreviation as a name, and no longer a usual word from the dictionary. In the language of Internet chats, abbreviations have already replaced expressions using normal words, for example “rofl” (rolling on the floor laughing). So, in a not too distant future, our current language may be largely replaced by abbreviations, raising human abstraction to a higher level.

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