Words: initialism, n.

FROM THE deeper recesses of the Civil Service comes a memo to state that, with reference to the Words column, sub-section last week's item on acronym, in particular the erstwhile Hong Kong and Shanghai - HSBC, this is in fact an initialism: an acronym must be pronounceable.

A telephone poll suggests that initialism is a mite recherche; it is in Encarta but absent from Collins, while the OED entry for it refers to acronym, but not vice versa. In fact, initialism came first, by some 40 years, in 1899, but both only took off after the second war. Radar is an acronym, but others - SAS, IRA - remain initialisms when they could be acronyms. It is, of course, pleasing to reflect that pedantry is still a guiding force in the mandarin classes.

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