Abbreviations & Symbols
Abbreviations are the smallest building blocks in the cryptic crossword setter's arsenal and are used to help make up part (or all) of the answer word.
NOTE: Abbreviations are not just random letters! Every abbreviation a setter uses (with the exception of a few abbreviations that have become standards within crosswordland) must be found in the abbreviation & symbols section of a major dictionary.
Click here for an example of Collins dictionary page of abbreviations, definitions and symbols for the letter G. All the words that are abbreviated here can be used to indicate the letter G - random words cannot indicate letters, they must be abbreviations or acronyms found in a major dictionary.
Now let's see a few examples of abbreviations:
If the setter needs the letter G to help build an answer word they may use a word which has an abbreviation of G and employ:
... each of these words is recognized in one of the major dictionaries as a kosher abbreviation for G and so is able to fairly indicate G in a clue.
However, it is worth remembering that sometimes there is more than one abbreviation for a certain word. For example: GRAND can indicate G and also K (a thousand), and GERMAN can indicate G as well as GER. It will be up to the solver to work out which is to be used to make up the answer word.
Multiple letters can also be clued with abbreviations. For example:
Church ... (church of England)
Common era ...
Civil engineer ...
... can all indicate CE
SUMMARY: Any abbreviation or acronym that is found in a major dictionary may be used in a cryptic crossword, but setters will generally keep to the better known ones. It is also worth noting that some papers have a set list of allowable abbreviations so as to make it a bit easier on the poor old solver.
A pure abbreviation clue:
Punish bishop on ecstasy in county court (7)
punish - CORRECT (definition)
bishop - RR (abbreviation for right reverend)
on - positional indicator
ecstasy - E (abbreviation for the drug ecstasy)
in - insertion indicator
county - CO (abbreviation for county)
court - CT (abbreviation for court)
A part abbreviation clue:
Right, I'm cracking a bud, chief (6)
right - R (abbreviation for the right hand)
I'm - I & M
cracking - insertion indicator
a bud - PAL (pal and bud are synonymous)
chief - PRIMAL (definition)