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OMG! Popular English abbreviations and acronyms

11 min read
19 May 2022

In this modern world, we’re always looking for shortcuts to make our lives easier, whether it’s finding the shortest travel route or buying fast food for dinner – and the English language is no exception. Enter abbreviations!

An abbreviation is the shortening of a word or phrase. It’s become so widely used in the English language that many are now more popular than the original word – and this is fine for native speakers who’ve grown up with these shortcuts, but it can be tricky for those still learning English.

But DW (don’t worry) – this blog post will help you understand what an abbreviation is and when and where you can use them!


Types of abbreviation

Firstly, it’s important to know what the different types of abbreviations are and how to recognize them:

  • Initialism refers to the abbreviation of phrases that are formed from the first letter of each word. Ex. ‘VIP’ (Very Important Person), ‘BYOB’ (Bring Your Own Booze). These are always capitalized
  • An acronym is when those letters are pronounced as a word instead of individual letters. Ex. ‘Scuba’ or ‘NASA’
  • A shortening is where letters at the beginning or end of the word are omitted. These can then either be treated as a real word (ex. ‘flu’ or ‘ad’) or not be treated as a real word (ex. ‘Tues’ (Tuesday) or ‘Jan’ (January))
  • Contractions are abbreviations where letters in the middle of the word / phrase are omitted. Ex. ‘Dr’ (doctor) or ‘he’s’ (he is)


Why do WE use abbreviations?

  • To get our point across more quickly or urgently when speaking or writing a message
  • To make the most of the space available on a form / or on social media
  • To shorten long words that might otherwise be difficult to spell or say
  • So that companies with longer names are more recognizable / memorable to the public


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Popular abbreviations

Now that we know the different types of abbreviations, and why we abbreviate in the first place, we can go through common abbreviations used in different areas of everyday life – and what they mean!


Text / social media speech with friends

Making new friends is one of the best parts of any study abroad experience, so impress them with these casual abbreviations often used online or when texting:

  • OMG: oh my god. An exclamation used to express excitement, shock, or anger
  • LOL: laugh out loud. Used to demonstrate that you found something funny
  • BRB: be right back. Great way to let your friends or colleagues know that you’re stepping away from phone / computer for a short period of time
  • DM: direct message. To send someone a private message on social media
  • tbh: to be honest. Used before revealing an opinion, emotion, or the truth –  not capitalized
  • IMO: in my opinion. One of the most common ways to present an opinion
  • jk: just kidding. This is usually said after making a joke – not capitalized
  • FYI: for your information. An informal way of letting someone know of new or important facts
  • NP: no problem. A simple response to someone thanking you
  • TY: thank you. An informal way of thanking someone
  • idk: I don’t know. A quick way of letting someone know that you do not know – not capitalized
  • ofc: of course. Can be used as a quick response to someone asking for your help or to someone thanking you – not capitalized


In the workplace

Those doing an apprenticeship or working part-time in an office might be confused by some of the abbreviations used to shorten common workplace phrases. Reply to your boss’s email in record time by memorizing these popular abbreviations:

  •  IAM: in a meeting. Send to colleagues to let them know why you are unavailable
  • ASAP: as soon as possible. It lets others know you are doing something, or want something done, as soon as is feasible
  • NWR: not work related. This usually precedes content that is not related to your work
  • OTP: on the phone or one-time password. Depending on the context in which it is sent, OTP can one of two things: it can be used to let others know you’re busy speaking on the phone, or it can be used by companies to send a unique one-time password so that you can safely access certain accounts
  • WFH / WAH: work from home / work at home. Often used to confirm that you’re working from home as opposed to in the office
  • AFK: away from keyboard. Another great way to let colleagues know that you’re not at your computer. However, unlike BRB – which indicates that you will be back soon – AFK has no time requirement
  • AFAIK: as far as I know. A phrase used when relaying information that almost certain is correct, but not 100%
  • Acct: accounting. Often used when referring to accounting department / matters
  • Asst: assistant. You will often see this abbreviation in emails or job titles
  • P.O: product order. A common abbreviation for a common form used by many companies
  • W/: with. When sending quick emails, you might find that many colleagues don’t have time for prepositions, preferring to shorten those such as ‘with’ to W/ instead
  • ROI: return on investment . Another popular workplace term, this sales metric is often abbreviated for simplicity


Out in the world

Here are some other popular (and important!) abbreviations you might find in the world. You might also notice that some of the initialisms have periods placed after each letter (ex. D.I.Y) – this is not a strict rule but is widely used in the USA.

  • A&E: Accident and Emergency. A very important abbreviation to know – if you suffer an injury requiring medical attention, this is where you would need to go.
  • A.T.M: an automated teller machine or cash machine. Whether you call it the former or the latter, both are long, and ATM is a much easier way of remembering where you can access your money on the street.
  • D.I.Y: do it yourself. A great example of an abbreviation that is more popular than the original phrase. It of course refers to constructing or making something yourself.
  • E.T.A: estimated time of arrival. This initialism is used by apps, companies, colleagues, and friends alike as an efficient way of asking or telling you what time you’ll arrive.
  • F.B.I: Federal Bureau of Investigation. The national institute for investigating crime in the USA and another great example of an abbreviation that is more well-known than the original phrase.
  • DBL: double. You might find this abbreviation when booking hotels, so make sure you don’t get it mixed up with SGL (single)!
  • Tbsp: tablespoon. Most recipes will use the abbreviated version of this word as a means of measurements. Don’t confuse it with the below or else you might ruin your dish!
  • Tsp: teaspoon. Most recipes will use the abbreviated version of this word as a means of measurements. Don’t confuse it with the above or else you might ruin your dish

These are just some of the abbreviations you’re likely to come across during your trip abroad. It might seem impossible to memorize all of them immediately but knowing some will go a long way in helping you make friends and improve your general conversational skills.

The question now is: which one’s your favourite?


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