#TBT: It’s Okay to Say ‘PTK’

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Monika Byrd, Phi Theta Kappa’s Dean of Leadership Development and Service Learning, and was originally published in 2010. It first appeared on The Reach blog in June 2016.

In official publications, ceremonies, events and training seminars, our name is Phi Theta Kappa. It is important to use the complete name, but it is also okay to say “PTK” in many contexts.


Of course it is preferable to say “Phi Theta Kappa” and just okay to say “PTK” — for reasons I will explain — but as a community of scholars who value things like teaching, learning, tolerance and inclusivity, I believe we have to accept that “PTK” is okay and stop vilifying anyone who says it.

To me, it is NOT disrespectful when someone in or out of the honor society uses “PTK” rather than Phi Theta Kappa. The person in question may in fact love and believe in the organization’s spirit and know little about the reasons we use Greek letters, or what the Greek letters stand for, or what those Greek words mean. But they know what’s important to the organization: high academic standards, leadership, service and meaningful, scholarly gatherings.

As I heard someone say recently, “Aren’t we glad they know who we are and what we are about?” Exactly. Think of PTK as a nickname. Nicknames do not always clearly connect to the full, original name of a person or thing, but they are learnable or catchy or memorable and somehow make sense for those who use them.

Take, for example, using “Polly” for “Margaret.”

Polly’s “real” name is Margaret, and PTK’s real name is Phi Theta Kappa. If someone wants to know more about Polly’s name, she may have the time to explain and be happy to do it. If someone wants to know more about PTK’s name, those of us who know more about it may have the time to explain and should be happy to do it. But gasping or booing is not the way to prompt someone to ask. Doesn’t that start the conversation on a rather poor note?

We can take a decidedly more scholarly approach than chalking it up to the tendency for people to shorten names and come up with nicknames, though. The main argument against saying “PTK” is that the Roman letters of “P,” “T” and “K” have nothing to do with the name of the organization, which comes from the Greek letters beginning the Greek words φρόνηση, θυμός, καθαρότηταwords for the values the founders wanted to guide the organization and form the basis of its name. So that is why it’s preferable to say “φθκ.”

But how do people who use the Roman system of letters, perhaps friends or prospective members, know how to pronounce those letters? Unless they want to take lessons in Greek that include learning the Greek letters and spellings and pronunciations for the letters and words using the Greek letters, they Romanize the words.

The practice of “Romanizing,” or transliteration from one system of letters or characters to the Roman system, has been around for a long time and has protocols that are agreed to by linguists, national governments and even world organizations such as the United Nations. Transliterations go both directions for many different systems of letters and characters.

From the beginning, our organization’s founders referred to the Romanized Greek words — phronimon, thumos, katharotes rather than φρόνηση, θυμός, καθαρότητα — and to the words in English — wisdom, aspiration, purity — probably because even fewer people can read and translate Greek in the Greek letters than can translate and read Greek in the Roman letters.

If using an acronym is efficient, or even a linguistic habit for us, and φθκ is unrecognizable to many who aren’t already members or advisors for the organization, what would the alternative be? Should we use the acronym that results from using the English words, wisdom, aspiration and purity, “WAP”? That would take us further away from the history of the organization as one named with Greek words in mind and using a model established by academic societies long, long ago.

This table makes it easier to see that “PTK” actually makes sense as a nickname since it is the letters that would be used from a standard transliteration of the ancient, mystic, Greek words.

Greek words in Greek letters

Greek 1st letters

Greek words transliterated to Roman letters

Roman 1st letters













As nicknames go, it clearly makes more sense than many do (my Uncle Pee Wee would agree). I like Phi Theta Kappa’s nickname. It’s okay to say “PTK.”

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