Acronym, Initial Word and Syllable Word


This week’s language term, acronym, is a bit like popcorn. At first glance, it’s small and uncluttered, but if you look more closely at it, it pops open and reveals what was hidden inside.


An acronym is an abbreviation that you pronounce as a regular word, rather than as a series of letters.

A more technical term for acronym is: acronym. Astute readers will remember that that word has already been the Language Term of the Week, in this article.


  • Our son is going to study at the VU.
  • Are you going to have your eyes lasered too?
  • I have forgotten the pincode of my SIM card.
  • Shall we meet at HEMA at two o’clock ?

For the sake of completeness, the acronyms in these examples stand for:

Free U niversity l ight amplification by s timulated e mission of r adiation P rosonal Identification N um s ubscriber i dentity m odule H ollandsche E enheidsprijs M aatschappij A msterdam


This term is a straightforward composition of its logical parts:

  • letter (character in the alphabet) + word ( smallest meaning-bearing language unit)

At first sight this may seem a bit surprising, because all words consist of letters! But the trick here is that each of those letters itself comes from a different word, and that builds up the acronym.

Do you know

If you do pronounce the letters in an abbreviation one by one, you call that an initial word .

Initial word

This week’s language term, initial word, does not come from a stranger. In fact, every bit of his DNA comes from one of his parents – and sometimes there are quite a few. Sometimes it rolls smoothly off the tongue, and often it feels so familiar that you don’t even remember who its namesakes were.


An initial word is an abbreviation that is made up of the first letters of the constituent words, and where you pronounce the abbreviation itself as a series of letters.

Initial words in Dutch are usually written without periods.

If an initial word is new or has been imported from another language, and feels like a “foreign term”, you often still spell it with capital letters – think ADSL or AVG. As such terms become more established, they lose their capital letters – think of mobile phone and VAT.


  • Many technical neologisms are initial words, such as dvd, pc, and sms.
  • Abbreviations such as vwoand vmbo are initial words, but ‘havo’ and ‘mavo’ are not.
  • Initial words such as MRI, COPD, and ALS are common in medical jargon.


This term is a very functional compound:

  • initial(first letter [final from Latin initium: beginning, entrance]) + word

Do you know

With the names of organizations the rule is that you use the spelling that the organization itself also uses. That is why you write ANWB with all capital letters and PvdA with a small v and d in the middle.

(This imitation of the spelling of the namesake is called the “ donor principle” in the spelling.)

Syllable word

This week’s language term, syllable word, is quite ambitious. When he’s shopping for parts, he certainly doesn’t think too small. A little screw here or a nail there – hm, that’s not what it’s for. No, he would much rather immediately pick up a semi-finished product or a ready-made module. Then you’ll be ready even faster.


A syllable word is an abbreviation that is (partly) composed of the first syllables of the constituent words.


  • The hospitality industry isa challenging work environment.
    → ho-re-ca = hotel, restaurant, ca fé
  • Some young photographers have never been in a darkroom.
    → do- ka = dark room
  • Give me a baconand some nuts.
    → ba-co = Ba cardi co la
  • The annual Pride is a holiday for the gay
    → ho-le-bi = homo, le sbisch, bi sexual


This language term can hardly be more obvious:

  • syllable ( sound group in a word) + word ( unit of language)

Of course every word consists of at least one syllable, but the key point is of course that a syllable word is made up of syllables that come from other words.

Do you know

You already saw it in the definition: that word (partly) between brackets. There are also abbreviations whose components are a mix of syllables and letters. For example, think of:

    Association of Automobile Traders and Garage Owners

Here you see that the first two letters of the first word have been taken over as syllables; of words two, three and five the first letter; and that the fourth word is omitted altogether.

So is this a syllable word? That depends on how strict you are in the definition. It is certainly not a “pure” syllable word, but at the very least it is a mixture where a syllable word is in the mix.

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