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The Warsaw Voice » Society » December 21, 2011
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Troublesome Acronyms
December 21, 2011   
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Monika Sznajder is a philologist and long-time editor of English at Get It, a Warsaw translation agency.

We have recently had a certain dispute at GET IT between a translator, highly experienced, and a reviewer, equally experienced and a native speaker of English. The reviewer, editing a translation by her respected colleague, changed “Nato” to “NATO.” The translator was none too pleased when she reread the text and had the reviewer know, in not so many words, that the original form was perfectly correct and that there was no need to change it. The reviewer, on the other hand, claimed that her version was more acceptable, if not the only correct one. As is often the case, they were both right.

Nato (or NATO) is an acronym, i.e. a series of letters (usually initial) of a group of words, and—importantly—pronounced as one word. As such it can be spelled both ways, though—if you are ready to split hairs—the former is generally preferred only if the acronym has more than five letters (Unesco, Unicef). If not, you are better off sticking to “NATO,” even if ‘Nato’ can be found in many respectable texts.

Abbreviations (e.g. IBM, USA), not unlike acronyms, also have a thing or two on their collective conscience when it comes to dilemmas which torment users of English, including translators and reviewers, but about them, with your kind permission, next time.
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