"But NATO and AIDS are pronounced as words, rather than letters, yet they are likely to stay in allcaps."
Like so much else about human languages there might be little logic involved, but NATO and AIDS are initialisms, not acronyms, and for this reason might remain all caps.
I never heard of "initialism," and it's not in the lexicons of linguistic terminology that I checked.
Generally, if an acronym is readily pronounceable as a word (SCUBA, but not ATM), it will be. NATO and AIDS are acronyms (despite the other meanings of the phonetic sequence [eydz], which has been the subject of many a pun and comedic misunderstanding).
There is no way that I know of to predict which acronyms will remain uppercase.
Alan, from an initialist (one who signs his initials instead of his full name):
initialism - a significative group of initial letters.
Both are in a 1971 Compact Edition OED, in which P. P. C. R. is an 1899 instance of the latter.
I often indicate my consent with my initials without the full stops, and so plead guilty to being an initialist.
In a 2005 NOAD: initialism - an abbreviation consisting of initial letters pronounced separately (e.g., CPU). A subsense, an acronym.
It's a useful distinction. Thanks for the info.
To Tom and GC...You don't need to know the terminology. but you do need to know which ones are pronounced as words (NATO) and which are not (YMCA), or you will really sound funny.
Unfortunately, there's no hard-and fast rule. SAT is pronounced "ess-ae-tee," because it might be mistaken for the very common word sat. But LSAT is pronounced according to yet another rule: "pronounce the name of the first letter, then all the rest as one word." Military jargon is full of these.
My favorite redundancy (admittedly esoteric) is the hoi pollioi -- hoi means 'the'.
I am not lazy, nor am I stupid. I am a poor speller and terrible at writing grammatically. Please, if you see an error in my composition and notify me, I will be most grateful. My daughter and I are trying to catch each other's errors and she is as bad as I.
As to spelling, Joan, you're not alone.
Thomas Jefferson, in letters to his daughter, nagged her to spell better than he did.
In one draft of the Decl. of Indep. he wrote both 'inalienable' and 'unalienable'.
The smartest Mensa person I ever met could not spell so I quit worrying about it. You couldn't read his writing either. Maybe they just can't be bothered with such mediocre things.
I CAN spell well, and my grammar isn't so shabby either, but I'm convinced that what I call "perfect spelling" is an inborn gift, and not at all indicative of intelligence, any more than talent at art or music is. I have it, but no one else in my family does. But my mother and son are very good spellers, so I think it's something recessive, LOL. The thing is, when I was young, and hadn't been exposed to the deplorable spelling that's going around today, all I had to do is see a word once, and it was indelibly etched in my brain. Sort of like a snapshot library. Nowadays, I've seen words spelled wrong so many times that the photos have gotten blurry, and I will, on occasion, spell something wrong.
One thing that amuses me is that I saw my ESL students spell the word "girl" as "gril" so often, that "gril" is now superimposed on my photo. They BOTH look right to me now, but because the word is used so often, I do know which one is right. If it were an uncommon word, I might not actually know! :-)
The other thing that is fun, is to watch how people use the pronoun "I". We got so confused by our grammarian English teachers that we can barely use the pronouns at all. Like when I hear someone say "Myself and my wife would like to invite you...." Or when someone says, (here comes nasty, naughty Natalie) "she is as bad as I." If I were editing (which I am not -- just having fun with language), I would say "she is as bad as I am." Or colloquially, "she's as bad as me." I know that your teachers carefully taught you to say it that way, but I don't think anyone actually says that, unless they are trying to be formal. And I'm sure that prescriptive grammarians might disagree with me, which is why I DIDN'T get an 800 on the SAT English in high school, nor on the GRE. To which I give them a great, big raspberry!
Love you, Joan! :-)
Natalie & others...English spelling is difficult for many reasons -- the thousands of homonym pairs, the survival of older spellings whose letters are silent (e.g., though), the complex rules for doubling consonants and the accompanying vowel sounds (stripping vs. striping), and much more. Barring cognitive disabilities, it can be learned by anyone with enough practice. Early reading is essential so that you can "re-visualize" the word when it comes time to write it.
G.B. Shaw pointed out that with the vagaries of English spelling, you could spell fish as "ghoti" -- the gh from cough gives you the f sound; o is pronounced i in women, and the ti is pronounced sh in countless -tion words.
Gril vs. Girl... I heard once that the word "bird" was originally "brid" and people just began pronouncing and spelling it the other way.
Grinning Cat, I didn't know "redundancy of "HIV virus". Thanks for the information.