ENGLISCH/951: Questions to Mrs. Gobbledygook (215) - What do we actually not know about a.k.a. aka A.K.A. aka AKA? (SB)

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook,

My name is Cindy and I come from Taiwan. I read in a glossy magazine in the waiting room of my doctor that the actor Robert Patterson (33) is going to be the next Bruce Wayne "aka" Batman. What does "aka" mean? Could you please explain that?

Thank you
Cindy W. (Taiwan)


Dear Ms W.,

This is a good question and I'm sure a lot of people don't know what "aka" is, especially when it is written and pronounced like one word. No, it is not the name of a parrot! Cause it's one of those abbreviations "aka" acronyms, that have been commonly used in English since texting via short messages, SMS and emails became more and more popular.

Well, nobody knows how many abbreviations there are in the English language, or in any language for that matter. In the dictionaries I use there are at least half a million of them, can you imagine it! And as a certain expert in linguistics, Professor David Crystal, puts it in one of his BBC talks about F.A.Q.s (Frequently asked questions), abbreviations are very important "because they save time and add familiarity." It's a way of gaining rapport. So you would never hear someone say: "I come from the British Broadcasting Corporation studio", because everybody uses the term "BBC" instead.

Now, back to your question, the terms a.k.a. or more common "aka" are the acronyms for the phrase "also known as". Most often used to describe a person's aliases, pseudonyms or nicknames, a.k.a. and aka may also be used when describing another name for a place or object. In your example Robert Patterson will play Bruce Wayne who is also known as Batman.

In addition, "aka" is an interesting example of the development of an acronym. When the term "also known as" was first abbreviated to an acronym, the letters were separated by dots, indicating that it was actually an acronym and not a word in its own right. When a.k.a. was used more and more, the periods were omitted. Now both spellings are to be seen in general usage, although in the "Oxford English Dictionary" only the spelling "aka", the somewhat more popular form, is listed. Interestingly, even if the term is written without dots as in "aka", it is pronounced "ay-kay-ay", with the three letters intoned separately and not as one word.

Even more irritating for learners of English, "aka" or "a.k.a." may be that only lower case letters as well as only upper case letters (AKA or A.K.A.) can be used.

For this I'll give you some more examples I found in a couple of glossy magazine myself:

In these days of every-man-for-himself-ism, the guy who takes over is the one who isn't afraid to break the rules and stand out-like Steven Yeun (a.k.a. Glenn on The Walking Dead), dressed here in the season's most sophisticated, crisply tailored, workplace-ready tweed suits. [2]

The geniuses behind Saturday's SNL episode invited "America's Dad" - A.K.A. Tom Hanks-into our homes to help calm us down by adding some humor to it all. [3]

Kimberly J. Brown, AKA Marnie Cromwell, did you a major solid and is letting you in on what one of the series' most iconic villains, Kal, is up to 15 years later. [4]

Besides, there are many other abbreviations you often see and use in the English language to save time. There's "e.g." (Latin: "exempli gratia" aka "for example"). Also commonly used is the term "FYI" (short: for your information) when you give someone information. Some people make a note "PTO" ("please turn over") at the end of a page, if they have written on both sides of the page. And when you are going to give details about something, you can write "i.e." (Latin: id est - "that is") indicating that there is more explanation to come.

Now I don't want to become a "prig" aka "nerd" aka "stick-in-the-mud" about this and bore you with another 499.995 items also known as abbreviations, but I hope you understand the use of "aka" now.

Miranda Gobbledygook






5. November 2019

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