A is for Acronym plurals

“The argument that acronyms should have no different plural form (for example, ‘If D can stand for disc, it can also stand for discs’) is in general disregarded because of the practicality in distinguishing singulars and plurals.”

Jaquandor, that fine Buffalo blogger, wrote about the acronym FUBAR, and how a writer had used it as FUBARed. FUBAR, in case you don’t know, means Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition, where F really represents some OTHER word.

“Here’s my thing: Isn’t FUBAR already past-tense? Can something really be FUBARed, when the -ed suffix has already been used in the F part of the FUBAR acronym? Seems to me that FUBAR covers all bases, in terms of tense.”

And I replied: “As fussy as I can be, the absence of the -ed SOUNDS wrong… As I think more on this, I HAVE heard FUBAR NOT as a past tense. ‘You really know how to FUBAR.” So the -ed isn’t always already present anyway, in my experience.”

This inevitably got me thinking about how an acronym, “an abbreviation formed from the initial components in a phrase or a word,” is made plural. From the Wikipedia: “it has become common among many writers to inflect acronyms as ordinary words, using simple s, without an apostrophe, for the plural. In this case, compact discs becomes CDs…

“The argument that acronyms should have no different plural form (for example, ‘If D can stand for disc, it can also stand for discs’) is in general disregarded because of the practicality in distinguishing singulars and plurals.”

Further: “A particularly rich source of options arises when the plural of an acronym would normally be indicated in a word other than the final word if spelled out in full. A classic example is Member of Parliament, which in plural is Members of Parliament. It is possible then to abbreviate this as M’s P… This usage is less common than forms with s at the end, such as MPs, and may appear dated or pedantic. In common usage, therefore, weapons of mass destruction becomes WMDs, prisoners of war becomes POWs, and runs batted in becomes RBIs — generally, if the abbreviation ends with a tensed back vowel syllable. The plural of RBI is ‘RBIs’ because acronyms become bona fide words as language evolves, and as with other words attract a plural suffix at the end to be made plural, even if the first word is the main noun in the spelled-out form. ” A call to make multiple runs batted in as RBI I think is just silly.

Some acronyms, BTW, have become lower-case words. FUBAR’s linguistic cousin, snafu – Situation Normal, All Fouled Up – easily takes the s as a plural.

For me, in dealing with acronyms, clarity is the key, not propriety. Which, incidentally, is why FUBARed doesn’t both me either.


ABC Wednesday – Round 13