Good grief, it's a running gag (lady_ganesh) wrote in fandom_grammar,
Good grief, it's a running gag
lady_ganesh
fandom_grammar

ANSWER: When should you use periods in abbreviations?

Is it just a fanfic thing to drop the periods in the abbreviations or has it become “acceptable” outside of fanfic as well? (ex. NCIS vs. N.C.I.S., SGC vs. S.G.C.)

While fanfic has been around for a long time, so have dropped periods in abbreviations. In fact, if you go to the Official NCIS website, you'll notice even the United States government drops the periods.

Unfortunately, whether or not the dropping is "acceptable" depends on who you're writing for and what style you're using.



As you're probably already aware, English is a rich and diverse language, and as there's no single body-- like France's Academie Francaise-- that tells us what is Proper English and Improper English, there can be a variety of 'correct' ways to abbreviate and even spell words.

But when writing for an audience, consistency is very important-- people may 'agree to disagree' on how to spell 'gray', but no one wants to see it spelled two different ways in a single paragraph:

"It's a grey mouse," Hakkai said brightly.

"I know it's a gray mouse," Sanzo snapped. "Why is it here, and why does it have my reading glasses?"


To that end, most journalists and publishing houses have style guides that dictate how commonly used words are treated. You may well have even heard of "AP Style" (most common in journalism) or "Chicago Style," or had to conform to a style when putting citations in an academic paper.

Here are a few examples of how AP Style treats common abbreviations:

Omit periods in acronyms unless the result would spell an unrelated word. But use periods in two-letter abbreviations, such as U.S. Amusingly, the AP has several exceptions to this rule, most notably AP itself!

Our own katiefoolery has a great example of why you should be careful with your acronyms:

I read a news ticker written all in caps that said an "UN-RUN SCHOOL HAD BEEN BOMBED". And I was thinking, Well, does it matter if no-one's running it? And is "un-run" really proper grammar? And then I realised it was meant to be U.N.-run school. So sometimes those full-stops can make all the difference.


Use A.D., B.C., a.m., and p.m.

Use periods in R.S.V.P.

The Chicago Manual of Style advises you use periods with abbreviations that appear in lowercase letters; use no periods with abbreviations that appear in full capitals or small capitals, whether two letters or more. They also have exceptions, including scientific uses (no periods: cm, kg, dpi) and initials standing for given names (periods: G. K. Chesterton).

So in AP, you would say:

"NCIS is asking for an R.S.V.P.," Karen said.

"I don't even want to go," Roberts told her. "I don't like anyone there. Except that Ziva girl. She's got spunk."


But in Chicago style, you would say:

"NCIS is asking for an RSVP," Karen said.

"I don't even want to go," Roberts told her. "I don't like anyone there. Except that Ziva girl. She's got spunk."


Other style guides may well treat these things differently, and that's okay! For a fanfic writer, using a single style guide isn't necessary. What is important is to be consistent, and use words that can be spelled or abbreviated differently consistently.

Whenever possible, be consistent with the canon source: Official websites, such as The NCIS website at CBS, are a big help.) In older fandoms, such as the Man from U.N.C.L.E., there are usually existing conventions you can find by simply reading some canon sources and paying attention.

References and further reading

The Style Guide article on Wikipedia does not live up to Wiki's high quality standards, but has reference to a whole heap of style guides.

The Chicago Manual of Style online. Be sure to check out the nifty Question and Answer section.

The AP Style Top Ten List.
Tags: !answer, author:lady_ganesh, formatting, language:english dialects, punctuation, style choice:punctuation, usage:punctuation
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