Acronyms are a shortening of lengthy phrases, especially when they are frequently used in speech and writing, and to say the whole thing every time would be unwieldy. Examples are "NATO" and "NAFTA."
Of course, you can go overboard in using acronyms -- and Americans, who see ourselves as perpetually crunched for time, are particularly guilty of this. Mail carriers and other USPS employees get very frustrated with people who create their own acronyms for city names, thinking, "Hey, everybody knows that "TAC" is "Tacoma!" So, if you want to be sure you'll be understood, stick to the shortenings that have been around a while, that everyone agrees on.
However, sometimes we run into the opposite problem: acronyms that have been around so long, and are so commonly used, that people have begun to forget what they originally stood for. Are you sure, for example, you know the long forms of "AT&T," "IBM," or "CBS"? You might be surprised by what you learn. Some of the full names, in the case of companies more than a century old, are actually rather dated. The companies or organizations behind them are probably happiest being referred to by their acronym, not their full name.
How confident are you that you know what's what in the world of acronyms? Take our quiz now and find out. BoL! ("Best of Luck!" ... and yes, we know that's not a legit acronym!)