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As literacy rates rose, and as advances in science and technology brought with them a constant stream of new (and sometimes more complex) terms and concepts, the practice of abbreviating terms became increasingly convenient. Some prescriptivists disdain texting acronyms and abbreviations as decreasing clarity, or as failure to use "pure" or "proper" English.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) records the first printed use of the word initialism as occurring in 1899, but it did not come into general use until 1965, well after acronym had become common. Others point out that language change has happened for thousands of years, and argue that it should be embraced as inevitable, or as innovation that adapts the language to changing circumstances.

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.

There are no universal standards of the multiple names for such abbreviations and of their orthographic styling.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.Some well-known commercial examples dating from the 1890s through 1920s include Nabisco (National Biscuit Company), Esso (from S. Roosevelt (also of course known as FDR) under the New Deal.O., from Standard Oil), and Sunoco (Sun Oil Company). Business and industry also are prolific coiners of acronyms. Navy, is COMCRUDESPAC, which stands for commander, cruisers destroyers Pacific; it's also seen as "Com Cru Des Pac".

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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).

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