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Acronyms and Initials

A small yet difficult subject, especially for “rookies”: what to do when you come across an abbreviation, initials or acronym while translating. (This article does not differentiate between initials- the first letters of a group of words from a full expression or name, and acronyms- initials pronounced together, effectively forming a word: SONAR, SCUBA, etc.)

There are different ways to look at the subject, and here I have included a few general guidelines that will serve you when translating from English to Spanish.

1. Company or insitution names that are made up of initials should not be translated (FBI, CNN, UCLA, BBC). The full name of the entity should be translated, followed by the initials, a comma, and the phrase “por sus siglas en inglés”.  Agencia Central de Inteligencia (CIA, por sus siglas en inglés).

2. Large and well known international organizations generally have a standardized translation for their initials that you will need to find. (UN = ONU, WHO = OMS). The full name is written out with the initials in parentheses, or vice-versa.

Ex.: Organización del Tratado del Atlántico Norte (OTAN)

3. Acronyms and initials in the medical field (meaning names of diseases, procedures, compound names for body parts, etc.) usually have a standardized translation. You should try and find one and use it instead of the one from the source language. TC = CT (colesterol total), CT = TC (tomografía computada), ACL = LCA (ligamento cruzado anterior), AIDS = SIDA (síndrome de inmunodeficiencia adquirida), DNA = ADN (ácido desoxirribonucleico), STD = ETS (enfermedades de transmisión sexual).

4. Randoms: position names (CEO, COO, RR. PP.), political groups (IRA), country names (USA), military, government, international business procedures (SIGINT, CMOC, FIFO), electronic and computer systems (DOS, ATM, PIN), common phrases (FAQ). Some are traduced into words ( (CEO = Director Ejecutivo, COO = Director o Jefe Operativo, FAQ = preguntas frecuentes, ATM = cajero automático), some have a translation and new initials (IRA = Ejército Republicano Irlandés [ERI], USA = Estados Unidos de América [EE. UU.]), others should not be translated (like those in point 1; ex.: Centro de Operaciones Civiles y Militares (CMOC, por sus siglas en inglés), and others, especially computer terms, are the same as in English (PIN, DOS, CD ROM).

When in doubt, look it up!

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