Acronyms have proliferated in our increasingly complex society, especially in technical fields such as computer science and medicine. Reference tools are essential for decoding these acronyms. The most comprehensive source is Gale's Acronyms, Initialisms, and Abbreviations Dictionary, which lists over 400,000 acronyms. It's hard to imagine an academic reference collection without a copy of this excellent print source. Most academic libraries also own acronym dictionaries for specific subject areas such as computer science, engineering, medicine, military, and other technical fields. In addition to these print sources, numerous acronym web sites now exist, most of which are specialized lists for topics ranging from accountancy to veterinary medicine.
This web site was probably the first acronym site to appear on the Internet. The WWW Acronym and Abbreviation Server was started in the mid-1980's as an email server, and in 1992 it went on the web. The current author/producer is the original founder of the site, Peter Flynn of University College, Cork, Ireland. At this writing, the site includes 17,838 acronyms from all subject areas. The site defines an acronym as "any string of characters formed from the initial letters (or occasionally from other letters) of several words, regardless of whether the result is pronounceable or not."
The database can be searched by acronym or by word. Browsing is available; if you are not sure of the exact acronym, you can type in a one or more letters or words in order to look through a list of all acronyms containing those letters or words. Acronyms are included from business, computer science, education, government, military, sports, and many other subjects. A few facetious acronyms are included in the database (such as BANANA: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone), but the great majority are mainstream acronyms for organizations, journals, technical terms, etc. Most of the entries are American or British acronyms. You may submit acronyms for inclusion in the web site, but unfortunately the site is not being updated regularly. Responding to an email query from this reviewer, the producer noted that the site is an "unofficial, volunteer effort" and has not been updated recently. However, he does plan to continue the site and is working on improvements such as categorization and possibly a new interface.
This relatively small web site cannot compare to a comprehensive source such as Gale's acronyms dictionary. But if you want to do a quick lookup and you're away from the reference desk, the site could be handy. The only similar site on the web is the commercial Acronym Finder (www.acronymfinder.com), which lists 129,000 acronyms.
Susan E. Clark