Abbreviations, small caps, and full stops

Sylph's picture

Could any of you tell me when, where, and why did the convention of using small caps for acronyms longer than three letters arise?

If you are using the obsolescent tradition of writing full stops after the inital letters in acronyms, why is it that there are no spaces after the stop, just like there are after the initals in a shortened name?

Should those spaces, in both cases (acronyms and personal names), be non-breaking or of some other kind?

Joshua Langman's picture

I can't tell you when this practice began, but note that many typographers and/or editors don't put spaces in names like W.B. Yeats either.

Nick Shinn's picture

The answers to the first and last of these questions is in the style guides used by editors. Firstly, one would have to compare different editions of style guides to see when the conventions changed. And thirdly, today if one wishes to be proper and demonstrably correct, then one should choose and abide by a style guide (there are different ones available, with different “rules”, e.g. for American English and English English (fewer marks).

However, “why” is open to conjecture. Note that long ago compositors placed no space after a comma, which might suggest a visual reason for the lack of spaces in acronyms, even those unwieldy conglomerations that cannot be sounded like words.

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