It’s Eff, En, Ell

By Ken Michaels, Staff Writer

By Ken Michaels, Staff Writer

The other day, in a discussion about implementing new branding standards for the name change to Frederick National Laboratory, Frank Blanchard, our public affairs director, related to me that he had recently been asked, “So how exactly do I pronounce FNL?” His answer was, “Eff, en, ell.” Why? Because FNL is not an acronym.

FNL Is NOT an Acronym?

Right. Contrary to popular misconception, a collection of letters that stands for something is not necessarily an acronym. And this is one such case: FNL is an initialism (also sometimes called alphabetism), not an acronym. So what’s the difference?

While the term “acronym” is often used to describe any lettered abbreviation, most dictionaries define an acronym as a word, derived from the first letters of a more complex term. True acronyms, therefore, are words, like SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus); AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome); and LASER (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation).

The U.S. armed forces, and the government in particular, generated thousands of acronyms in the 20th century to abbreviate lengthy terminology to more manageable, pronounceable expressions. Agencies were cautioned to make terms “YABA compatible” (YABA is an acronym for “yet another bloody acronym”), meaning to take care that the full term did not abbreviate to an offensive word in its short form.

Say the Letters

Initialisms, on the other hand, are forms of shorthand that are not intended to be regarded as words and thus pronounced. Who would try and pronounce AFL-CIO, CIA, or HTML?

And yet some folks do insist on pronouncing that which ought not to be. For me personally, it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard when I hear people making words that ought not to be––calling an uninterruptible power supply an “ups” or a uniform resource locator an “earl.”

And especially with the Frederick National Laboratory. We really don’t need more invented words. We should no more try to invent a way to pronounce FNL than we would NCI; “en, see, eye” does the job just fine.

So how do we pronounce FNL? “Eff, en, ell.”

Please. Say the Letters.