April 12th, 2006
A or an (acronym) / stupider?
by Barbara Wallraff
Donna Chardeen, of Albany, N.Y., writes: “I work at a credit union. My industry is overrun with acronyms, and my question is about using ‘the’ and ‘a’ or ‘an’ with them. For example, I say ‘the National Credit Union Administration’ when referring to the federal regulator, and then call it ‘NCUA’ -- not ‘the NCUA.’ I say ‘a federal credit union’ the first time and ‘an FCU’ thereafter. I find myself in the minority, but ‘a FCU’ just doesn’t sound right. Is there a right way and a wrong way to use acronyms?”
Dear Donna: Yes, there is, and you’re using them right. Before I explain the rules you’re following, though, I should tell you that in the language industry, in technical usage NCUA and FCU aren’t acronyms but “initialisms.” That’s because they’re pronounced as letters (“en-see-you-ay,” “ef-see-you”). “Acronyms” are abbreviations pronounced as words -- like AIDS and ZIP code (the “ZIP” part stands for “Zone Improvement Plan”).
Susan Hall, of Gaylord, Mich., writes: “I have an ongoing dispute with a co-worker and two sons of another co-worker. Is ‘stupider’ a valid word? The guys seem to think that ‘more stupid’ is the correct way to say someone is less intelligent than someone else. Which is correct?”
Dear Susan: Well, let’s put it this way: Your opinion is better informed than theirs. “Stupider” is a perfectly good word. Anyone not inclined to believe me can check a dictionary, like the American Heritage or Webster’s Third New International, that gives comparative and superlative endings (“-er” and “-est”) for adjectives that have them. “More stupid” is not necessarily wrong. But where a comparative form like “stupider” exists, it’s generally better form to use it than to put “more” in front of the adjective.
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.