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I wonder whether an acronym should be considered as an icon or an index. On the one hand, an acronym is similar to what it stands for, on the other hand, there is often (but not always) a formulaic relationship between the acronym and what it stands for. Some acronyms, such as USA, might not be similar enough to what they stand for to count as an icon and might be better viewed as an index, but that is not so clear in other cases, such as InterPol.

What is the semiotic view on this?

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  • What definitions of 'icon' and 'index' are you using? Can you give us some links? – curiousdannii Oct 11 '14 at 9:27
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    This is Piercian terminology, I think. – jlawler Oct 11 '14 at 15:36
  • Yes, I used the terms introduced by Peirce (as I understood them). The link provided by James Grossmann, which I didn't know before, provides a great explanation (Thanks!). – Nomen est omen Oct 11 '14 at 16:49
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It would be classified as neither. Icons literally resemble what they stand for. For example, a globe is an icon to the extent that it literally resembles Earth. No such resemblance exists between an acronym and that which it stands for.

An index literally resembles an effect or thing affected by what it stands for. For example, a symbol that resembles smoke can be used to stand for fire. No such resemblance exists between an acronym and that which it stands for.

Acronyms are as arbitrary as any other conventional symbols.

For more information, read http://csmt.uchicago.edu/glossary2004/symbolindexicon.htm

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    An acronym is an icon of the printed words it stands for. The printed word itself is a separate symbolic matter; it sposta represent the spoken word it records, but, given English orthography, that's hardly the most obvious fact about it. And of course the spoken word is also a symbol of something or other, derived from context and sound and lexicon, but not in any simple way. I don't know how Peirce dealt with really complex hierarchical symbolic systems like this. – jlawler Oct 11 '14 at 17:05
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    But the acronym USA is not completely arbitrary. It is created by a specific rule that lets you create or predict other acronyms. Isn't it similar to the paw prints example: The first letters could be viewed as leaving some kind of "track" of the phrase being abbreviated. – Nomen est omen Oct 11 '14 at 17:34
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    BTW, this recent book on Peirce's treatment of propositions was recently recommended to me by my colleague Charles Pyle, who's a Peirce scholar. He says it's very well written, and "it develops Peirce's theory of Natural Propositions as the truth-functional foundation of mental functioning". I haven't read it. But I can recommend Pyle's book On the Duplicity of Language for a good primer on Peirce, as applied to natural language and communication. – jlawler Oct 11 '14 at 19:17
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    @jlawler: While it's true that "USA" literally resembles the spelling of "United States of America," the latter is not what the term "USA" means or refers to. "USA" and "United States of America" are both symbols that stand for a country. Were this not the case, the following sentence would make sense: "'USA' has twenty one letters." So I don't see the case for iconicity here. – James Grossmann Oct 11 '14 at 20:45
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    @JamesGrossmann: I think "USA" can represent two things: It can, as you say, stand for the country, but it can also be considered a short form for the phrase "United States of America". Taking the first representation, I agree that "USA" is just a symbol, but the second representation is just as valid, and in that context, it does not seem to be an arbitrary symbol. – Nomen est omen Oct 12 '14 at 18:41

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