Backronym: Wikis


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A backronym or bacronym is a phrase constructed after the fact to make an existing word or words into an acronym. Backronyms may be invented with serious or humorous intent, or may be a type of false or folk etymology.

The word is understood as a portmanteau combining back and acronym. Its earliest known citation in print is "bacronym" in the November 1983[1] edition of the Washington Post monthly neologism contest (1983–2004): journalist Bob Levey quoted winning reader "Meredith G. Williams of Potomac" defining it as the "same as an acronym, except that the words were chosen to fit the letters."[1] Actual use of the word is found in texts since at least 1994.[1]

Differences from acronyms

An acronym is a word derived from the initial letters of a phrase:[2] For example, the word radar comes from "Radio Detection and Ranging."[3]

By contrast, a backronym is constructed by taking an existing word already in common usage, and creating a new phrase using the letters in the word as the initial letters of the words in the phrase. For example, the United States Department of Justice assigns to their Amber Alert program the meaning "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response",[4] although the term originally referred to Amber Hagerman, a 9-year old abducted and murdered in Texas in 1996.

A backronym, like an acronym, is not always a pronounceable word, such as DVD (an initialism)[5] and SOS (a representation of the emergency signal used in Morse code).[6]



Backronyms can be constructed for educational purposes, for example to form mnemonics so that the new initialism is easier to remember.

An example of such a mnemonic is the Apgar score, used to assess the health of newborn children. The rating system was devised by and named after Virginia Apgar, but ten years after the initial publication, the backronym APGAR[7] was coined in the US as a mnemonic learning aid: Appearance (skin color), Pulse (heart rate), Grimace (reflex irritability), Activity (muscle tone), and Respiration.

12-step programs

Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs have a verbal culture that makes extensive use of backronyms. They're used as teaching tools, similar to slogans such as "one day at a time," or "Let go, let God," but often have an ironic edge.

  • God = Good Orderly Direction[8]
  • Halt = Hungry Angry Lonely or Tired[9]
  • Slip = Sobriety Losing Its Priority[10]
  • Denial = Don't Even Notice I Am Lying[11]
  • Fine = Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional[11]

Jokes and pejorative meanings

Backronyms proliferate as a kind of folklore, communicating humorous derogation and expressing consumer loyalties or frustration. For example:

  • Delta - Doesn't Ever Leave The Airport.[12]
  • Fiat - Fix It Again Tony/Tomorrow.[13] (the firm's name is actually an acronym for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino.[14])
  • Navy - Never Again Volunteer Yourself.[15] [16]
  • TWAIN - Technology Without An Interesting Name.[17]

False acronyms

Sometimes the backronym is so commonly heard, that it is generally but incorrectly believed to have been used in the formation of the word, and amounts to a folk etymology or an urban legend. Examples of these include:

  • The word wiki, since its application to consumer generated media, has been suggested by some to mean "What I Know Is".[18] Actually, it is half of the Hawaiian phrase "wiki wiki" meaning "fast".[19]
  • Adidas has been explained as "All Day I Dream About Sports". The word Adidas actually comes from the nickname of the company's founder, Adi Dassler.[20] It was also alternatively backronymed as "All Day I Dream About Sex",[21] a backronym popularized by the band Korn and rapper Killer Mike, who recorded a song A.D.I.D.A.S.. In Spanish, a popular and sarcastic backronym for Adidas is "Asociación De Idiotas Dispuestos A Superarse" ("Association Of Idiots Willing To Outdo Themselves").[22] In Dutch, a similar joke exists, "Alle Domme Idioten Doen Aan Sport" ("All dumb idiots engage in sports").
  • Kiss is simply the name of the band, but an urban legend developed which claims that the letters stand for "Knights In Satan's Service"; other versions use "Kings" or "Kids" instead of "Knights."[23]
  • Posh did not originally stand for "Port Out, Starboard Home" (referring to 1st class cabins shaded from the sun on outbound voyages east, and homeward heading voyages west).[24] The musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang popularized this erroneous etymology.[24]
  • Golf is not an acronym for "Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden" as has been suggested.[25] It is actually derived from the old Scots name for the game, gowf. This word may, in turn, be related to the Dutch word kolf, meaning "bat", or "club", and the Dutch sport called Kolven.[24]
  • Ping does not stand for "Packet InterNet Grouper", "Packet InterNet Groper", "Packet InterNet Gopher" or any such phrase. The name is merely a reference to sonar.[26]
  • Microsoft's Bing service has been likened to the backronym "Because It's Not Google"[27] and "But It's Not Google", but also the recursive backronym "BING Is Not Google"[28][29].
  • The word fuck is sometimes falsely claimed to be derived from "for unlawful carnal knowledge", words allegedly placed above people being punished for adultery in Puritan stockades.[30] The hard rock band Van Halen used this phrase as the title of their 1991 album. Fuck is also known as "fornication under consent of King".[30] Actually, it is of Common Germanic origin and has absolutely nothing to do with acronyms.
  • COP is not for "Constable On Patrol", but it was short for the word Copper [31], the verb "to cop" meaning to seize, capture, or snatch.

See also

External links


  1. ^ a b c McFedries, Paul. "bacronym". Word Spy: The World Lover's Guide to New Words. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  2. ^ "Acronym". Retrieved 2006-11-15. 
  3. ^ NASA. "RADAR means: Radio Detection and Ranging". Nasa Explores. Archived from the original on 2007-10-14. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Backronym Definition". PC Magazine.,2542,t=backronym&i=56302,00.asp. Retrieved 2006-11-14. 
  6. ^ "Acronym".,,sid44_gci211518,00.html. Retrieved 2007-03-06. 
  7. ^ "The Virginia Apgar Papers - Obstetric Anesthesia and a Scorecard for Newborns, 1949-1958". U.S. National Library of Medicine, NIH. Retrieved 2008-11-18. 
  8. ^ Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly: Volume: 10 Issue: 1/2, ISSN: 0734-7324 Pub Date: 8/6/1993 "Working the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous with a Client A Counseling Opportunity" Dan L. Thompson PhD
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ Keep Coming Back: Humor and Wisdom for Living and Loving Recovery by Meiji Stewart Google Books Result. Retrieved 2008-07-08. 
  11. ^ a b [2]
  12. ^
  13. ^,8599,1895296,00.html Can Americans Learn to Love Fiat? Chrysler Hopes So
  14. ^ [3]
  15. ^ [4]
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ "The wiki principle". Retrieved 2006-11-15. 
  19. ^ "wiki - Definitions from". Retrieved 2006-11-15. 
  20. ^ All Day I Dream About Sport: The Story of the Adidas Brand, ISBN 1904879128
  21. ^ "Urban Legends References Pages: Adidas". Retrieved 2007-10-15. 
  22. ^ "Ludoacronimia". Retrieved 2008-02-08. .
  23. ^ Also has been used to mean "Keep It Simple, Stupid" in reference to written business communication - most notably e-mail.[citation needed] Brothers, Fletcher A. in "The Rock Report," 1987 cites a January 1980 American Photographer article as his source.
  24. ^ a b c Quinion, Michael (2005). Port Out, Starboard Home: And Other Language Myths. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-101223-4. ; published in the US as Quinion, Michael (2006). Ballyhoo, Buckaroo, and Spuds. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-085153-8. 
  25. ^ See article at Snopes.
  26. ^ "The Story of Ping". 
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ a b "The Etymology of Fuck". 
  31. ^

Simple English

A Backronym is the same as an acronym, except that the meaning was created after the abbreviation.

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