Acronyms are words formed from the first letters of each word in a series of words (such as sonar, created from SOund Navigation And Ranging). An initialism is an abbreviation formed from, and used simply as, a string of initials. Although the term acronym is widely used to refer to any abbreviation formed from initial letters, some dictionaries define acronym to mean “a word” in its original sense, while some others include additional senses attributing to acronym the same meaning as that of initialism. The distinction, when made, hinges on whether the abbreviation is pronounced as a word, or as a string of letters. Scuba is considered an acronym; F.B.I. isn’t.

Every area of life inevitably involves confusing initials. If you know what they refer to, they are just a convenient shorthand; if you don’t, you feel like an outsider.The word ‘Ichthus’ (which means ‘fish’ in Greek) was used to represent Christianity because these letters are the first letters of the Greek words Iesous (Iota), Christos (Chi), Theou (Theta), Uios (Upsilon), and Sotor (Sigma). The five Greek words mean “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour” or “Jesus Christ God’s Son Saviour” and thus the symbol of the fish helped Christians to identify each other whilst the meaning was initially obscure to those hostile to the faith:

Yesterday at Ampleforth Abbey, in true Da Vinci Code style(!), I looked at the Benedictine Medal, worn by some monks:

This is full of confusing initials, unless you know what these all stand for. As usual, I took great delight in uncovering the meanings:
C.S.P.B. stands for ‘Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti’ (‘The Cross of our holy father Benedict’)
C.S.S.M.L. stands for ‘Crux Sacra sit mihi lux’ (‘May the Holy Cross be my light’)
N.D.S.M.D. stands for ‘Ne Draco sit mihi dux’ (‘Let not the devil be my guide’)

The outer letters stand for the words of an ancient verse, which can be translated as:
‘Begone, Satan,
Never suggest vain things to me.
What you offer is evil.
Drink your own poison.’

The word ‘pax’ at the top (written in full!) means ‘peace’.

All that in one tiny medal!

Like the fish as a symbol of Christianity, flowers too have often been considered to be symbols. Flower symbols were used in the religious art of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and reached the highest level of development in the Victorian era. Orange blossom, for instance, symbolises chastity, purity and loveliness, while red chrysanthemum means I love you. I have no idea if symbolism was considered when making this arrangement; I just thought it looked beautiful!