21 September 2019
Acronyms and Backronyms
by John Floyd
by John M. Floyd
Today I don't want to talk about mysteries or novels or movies or short stories or the writing process . . . but I do want to talk about words. Specifically about three kinds of words: initials, acronyms, and something called backronyms--and things that I found interesting about them. Bear with me, here.
Definition: The first letters of a name or of words forming part of a phrase.
Most are instantly familiar to us as readers and writers: FBI, CIA, IBM, JFK, LBJ, BYOB, POW, MIA, ADHD, DOA, DOB, SUV, UFO, AKA, DVD, TNT, TGIF, DNA, AM/PM, CST, YTD, ETA, MBA, VP, CEO, IQ, IOU, FDIC, IRS, ATM, AARP, BS, NFL, PGA, CBS, NBC, UHF/VHF, and many, many others. And, more recently, OMG, WTF, BFF, LOL, IMO, IMHO, TMI, BTW, FYI, BCC, and so on.
The words associated with some initials, though, are not so well known:
CVS -- Consumer Value Stores
BMW -- Bavarian Motor Works
WD-40 -- Water Displacement--40th Attempt
3M -- Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing
ESPN -- Entertainment and Sports Programming Network
FAO Schwartz -- Frederick August Otto Schwartz
M&Ms -- Mars and Murrie's
CD-ROM -- Compact Disk Read-Only Memory
RSVP -- Respondez S'il Vous Plait
NOTE: These are not acronyms, because they aren't actual words. The term here is initialism.
Something that's also interesting, I think, is that there are now so many shortened words--abbreviations that have become, in some cases, more familiar than the expanded versions: limo, ad, photo, dorm, stats, hippo, rhino, email, ref, grad, exam, decaf, memo, lube, auto, flu, gator, croc, rep, sub, gym, vet, fridge, bike, semi, sitcom, deli, combo, etc. I doubt that some younger folks even know what a limousine is.
Definition: A pronounceable word formed by the initial letters or other parts of several words.
Again, some acronyms and their component words are well known: POTUS, NASA, ASAP, MADD, AIDS, NATO, etc.
In other cases, we might know the acronym better than we know its parts. Examples:
NERF -- Non-Expandable Recreational Foam
TASER -- Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle
LASER -- Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation
RADAR -- RAdio Detection And Ranging
SONAR -- SOund Navigation And Ranging
SCUBA -- Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus
CANOLA oil -- CANada Oil, Low Acid
CARE package -- Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe (later changed to the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere)
PAM -- Product of Arthur Meyerhoff
GEICO -- Government Employees Insurance Company
NABISCO -- NAtional BIScuit COmpany
NASDAQ -- National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation
SNAFU -- Situation Normal, All F***ed Up
AWOL -- Absent WithOut Leave
HUMVEE -- High Mobility Multi-purpose wheeled Vehicle (actually HMMWV)
KISS -- Keep It Simple, Stupid
BIT -- BInary digiT
PIN -- Personal Identification Number
MODEM -- MOdulator/DEModulator
JPEG -- Joint Photographic Experts Group
SIM card -- Subscriber Identification Module card
SPAM -- Shoulder of Pork And Ham, or SPiced hAM
AFLAC -- American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus
EPCOT -- Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (or Every Person Comes Out Tired)
Definition: A constructed, deliberately formed word whose initial letters are made to fit a previously determined word or phrase. They may be invented with either serious or humorous intent, and are sometimes called reverse acronyms. Examples:
GROSS -- Get Rid Of Slimy girlS (from Calvin and Hobbes)
TEA Party -- Taxed Enough Already
ZIP code -- Zone Improvement Plan
BASE jumping -- Building, Antenna, Span, or Earth (fixtures you can jump from)
SHERLOCK -- Sherlock Holmes Enthusiastic Readers League Of Criminal Knowledge
RALPH -- Royal Association for the Longevity and Preservation of the Honeymooners
BISON -- Biodiversity Serving Our Nation
COLTS -- Consumer On-Line Transaction System (named for the then-Baltimore football team)
JOVIAL -- Jules's Own Version of International Algebraic Language
GEORGE -- Georgetown Environmentalists Organization against Rats, Garbage, and Emissions
NOISE -- Neighbors Opposed to Irritating Sound Emissions
COBRA -- Cabinet Office Briefing Room A
SPECTRE -- the Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion
UNCLE -- United Netword Command for Law and Enforcement
THRUSH -- Technical Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity
KABOOM -- Key Atomic Benefits Organization Of Mankind (from the Naked Gun movies)
MASH -- Mobile Army Surgical Hospital
FIST -- Federated InterState Truckers
WALL-E -- Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class
RED -- Retired, Extremely Dangerous
CHUD -- Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller
Some backronyms are misleading (words mistakenly believed to be acronyms). Examples:
SOS -- Does not mean "Save Our Ship." It was chosen merely because its letters have a simple Morse code representation (three dots, three dashes, three dots).
YAHOO -- Did not come from "Yet Another Hierarchical Official Oracle." Its founders liked the word's meaning of "rude, unsophisticated, uncouth," from Gulliver's Travels.
COP -- Is not "Constable On Patrol."
NEWS -- Is not "North, East, West, and South."
CABAL -- Did not come from King Charles II's five ministers: Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley, and Lauderdale. Its use predated them.
POSH -- Is not "Port Out, Starboard Home." It's derived from a word for "overdressed dandy."
GOLF -- Is not "Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden."
PING -- Is not "Packet InterNet Groper." It's a utility to test (via packets) connectivity between computers.
WIKI -- Is not "What I Know Is." It's derived from the Hawaiian wiki-wiki, meaning fast.
TIP -- Is not "To Insure Promptness."
ADIDAS -- Did not come from "All Day I Dream About Sports." Its founder was Adolf "Adi" Dassler.
AMBER alert -- Did not come from "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response." It was actually named after a missing child, Amber Hagerman.
Some goofy backronyms:
FORD -- Fix Or Repair Daily
BING -- Because It's Not Google
NAVY -- Never Again Volunteer Yourself
DELTA -- Don't Ever Leave the Airport, or Don't Expect Luggage To Arrive
In closing, two of my favorite acronyms/backronyms from my days in the Air Force;
FIGMO -- A soldier who's happily being discharged or transferred (F*** It, I Got My Orders)
OMGIF (FIGMO spelled backward) -- A soldier whose expected discharge/transfer was canceled (Oh My God, I been F***ed)
And a backcronym I found for Lee Iacocca: I Am Chairman Of Chrysler Corporation America. (Couldn't resist mentioning that one.)
OK, FYI, I'm off to the ATM, and then I'm AWOL for two weeks. See you then.