Common Abbreviations in the US - Government and Idiomatic

"Why are you talking in that alphabet soup?" 

The phrase "alphabet soup" is used to describe the situation where someone is talking using too many abbreviations. Also, there is a soup in the US called alphabet soup. In this soup, there are noodles shaped like the alphabets, a, b, c and so on all the way to z. Whenever one eats this soup, they would look into their spoon and invariably get a random assortment of letters. This is alphabet soup. Hence, the phrase "alphabet soup" is also used as an idiom to which refers to speaking using a lot of acronyms, making it hard for the listener to understand what you are talking about. If you are talking in alphabet soup, you should avoid that! 

To help you clear the confusion of many of the common abbreviations used in everyday speech in the US, refer to the below list. If you encounter an abbreviation in everyday conversation you don't know, it's ok to ask, "What does _____ stand for?" (Place the acronym in the blank.) 


Mail / Banking/ Business 
401k - Retirement Plan 
BBB - Better Business Bureau - A non-profit agency that protects consumers against bad business practices.
COD - Cash on Delivery - When something is ordered, you pay for it upon delivery.
FDIC - Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation - Banks accredited by the US government have this abbreviation, symbolized to the right.
FTC - Federal Trade Commission - "Its principal mission is the promotion of consumer protection and the elimination and prevention of anticompetitive business practices, such as coercive monopoly." (source
IRA - Individual Retirement Account
P.O. Box - Post Office Box, a mail box in a post office

Cities/Places (Select)
D.C. - Washington D.C. (Washington on it's own refers to the state of Washington. If you say D.C. or Capital, then it's Washington D.C.)
N.Y. - New York State
N.Y.C. - New York City (or say 'The City') 
L.A. - Los Angeles 

English Tests/College Tests 
ACT - A standardized test widely used for high school achievement and college admissions in the United States.
ASL - American Sign Language 
ESL - English as a Second Language 
GMAT - Graduate Management Admission Test - Those wanting to study an MBA need to take this test. 
GRE - Graduate Records Examination - A test taken for graduate college admissions. 
SAT - A standardized test widely used for undergraduate college admissions in the United States.
TOEFL - Test Of English as a Foreign Language

Government/Official 
AWOL - Absent Without Leave/Absent Without Official Leave - Though this is used for military duty, it also can be used to refer to a colleague who did not come into work, especially if no one knows where that colleague is. 
CDC - Center for Disease Control 
EPA - Environmental Protection Agency 
FDA - Food and Drug Administration 
MIA - Missing in Action - While this is an acronym referring to military professional, it is also used in the office in a similar way to AWOL. If a colleague hasn't turned up to work, and no one knows where he or she is then he or she is AWOL or MIA.
POW/MIA - Prisoner of War/Missing in Action 

Hospital/Health
AA - Alcoholics Anonymous - This is a support group for recovering alcoholics.  
ER - Emergency Room 
ICU - Intensive Care Unit
LPN - Licensed Practical Nurse  
RN - Registered Nurse 

Paycheck/Pay stub
FT or FWT - Federal Tax or Federal Tax Withheld 
MWT or Med - Medicare Tax Withheld
ST or SWT - State Tax or State Tax Withheld 
SS or SSWT - Social Security or Social Security Tax Withheld 
SSN - Social Security Number 
YTD - Year to Date

Time 
AM/PM - Use AM after morning times and PM after afternoon times. Americans do not use the 24 hour/military clock, so using AM and PM is critical. 
ASAP - As Soon As Possible 
ETA - Estimated Time of Arrival (In daily conversation, someone could say, "When is your ETA?" That means, "What time are you coming over?")
RSVP - Respond Very Soon Please (This is not the real expansion, I like to think this what it means. More at this link.) 

TV Stations

Others 
101 - Introductory. In US colleges the introductory classes or classes taken in the first year are numbered 101. So, Americans use the number 101 to refer to "the basics." For instance, this post could be called, "Abbreviations used in the US 101." 
A/V - Audio/Visual 
DIY - Do it Yourself (Refers to home repair projects.)
FYI - For Your Information 
SUV - Sports Utility Vehicle (In India, people often refer to their cars by the brand, but in the US, they often refer to their cars by the type. SUV is one type of vehicle/car.) 
VBS - Vacation Bible School (It's a one week summer camp some churches have for kids while they are on summer vacation from school.) 

Jennifer Kumar is a consultant helping dispersed teams work and communicate more effectively with their US counterparts. For a strategy building session, contact Jennifer today. 

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