This has become such a problem that it is even evaluated at the level of medical academies such as the American Academy of Dermatology.Acronyms are often taught as mnemonic devices, for example in physics the colors of the visible spectrum are ROY G. They are also used as mental checklists, for example in aviation: GUMPS, which is Gas-Undercarriage-Mixture-Propeller-Seatbelts.

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Linguist David Wilton in Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends claims that "forming words from acronyms is a distinctly twentieth- (and now twenty-first-) century phenomenon. The capitalization of the original term is independent of it being acronymized, being lowercase for a common noun such as frequently asked questions (FAQ) but uppercase for a proper noun such as the United Nations (UN) (as explained at Case Casing of expansions).

There is only one known pre-twentieth-century [English] word with an acronymic origin and it was in vogue for only a short time in 1886. In addition to expansion at first use, some publications also have a key listing all acronyms used therein and what their expansions are. The first is that if they are not reading the entire publication sequentially (which is a common mode of reading), then they may encounter an acronym without having seen its expansion.

Like retronymy, it became much more common in the 20th century than it had formerly been. Some examples of acronyms in this class are: Acronyms are used most often to abbreviate names of organizations and long or frequently referenced terms.

Ancient examples of acronymy (regardless of whether there was metalanguage at the time to describe it) include the following: During the mid- to late-19th century, an acronym-disseminating trend spread through the American and European business communities: abbreviating corporation names in places where space was limited for writing—such as on the sides of railroad cars (e.g., Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad → RF&P); on the sides of barrels and crates; and on ticker tape and in the small-print newspaper stock listings that got their data from it (e.g., American Telephone and Telegraph Company → AT&T). The armed forces and government agencies frequently employ acronyms; some well-known examples from the United States are among the "alphabet agencies" (also jokingly referred to as "alphabet soup") created by Franklin D.

Whereas an abbreviation may be any type of shortened form, such as words with the middle omitted (for example, Rd for road or Dr for Doctor), an acronym is a word formed from the first letter or first few letters of each word in a phrase (such as sonar, created from "A number of commentators ...

believe that acronyms can be differentiated from other abbreviations in being pronounceable as words.

There is also some disagreement as to what to call abbreviations that some speakers pronounce as letters and others pronounce as a word.

For example, the terms URL and IRA can be pronounced as individual letters: Acronymy, like retronymy, is a linguistic process that has existed throughout history but for which there was little to no naming, conscious attention, or systematic analysis until relatively recent times. The use of Latin and Neo-Latin terms in vernaculars has been pan-European and predates modern English.

By 1943, the term acronym had been used in English to recognize abbreviations (and contractions of phrases) that were pronounced as words. In this view, the modern practice is just as legitimate as those in "proper" English of the current generation of speakers, such as the abbreviation of corporation names in places with limited writing space (e.g., ticker tape, newspaper column inches).