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A recursive acronym (or occasionally recursive initialism, and sometimes recursive backronym) is an abbreviation that refers to itself in the expression for which it stands. The term was first used in print in April 1986[1].


Computer-related examples

In computing, an early tradition in the hacker community (especially at MIT) was to choose acronyms and abbreviations that referred humorously to themselves or to other abbreviations. Perhaps the earliest example in this context, from about 1977 or 1978, is TINT ("TINT Is Not TECO"), an editor for MagicSix. This inspired the two MIT Lisp Machine editors called EINE ("EINE Is Not Emacs") and ZWEI ("ZWEI Was EINE Initially"). These were followed by Richard Stallman's GNU (GNU's not Unix). Many others also include negatives, such as denials that the thing defined is or resembles something else (which the thing defined does in fact resemble or is even derived from).


Notable examples

Noted examples include:

  • AROS — AROS Research Operating System (note: originally Amiga Research Operating System)
  • Allegro — Allegro Low LEvel Game ROutines (early versions for Atari ST were called "Atari Low LEvel Game ROutines")
  • CAVE — Cave Automatic Virtual Environment
  • Cygnus — Cygnus, Your GNU Support
  • EINE — EINE Is Not Emacs. ZWEI Was EINE Initially
  • giFT — giFT: Internet File Transfer
  • GiNaC — GiNaC is Not a CAS (Computer Algebra System)
  • GNE — GNE's Not an Encyclopedia
  • GNU — GNU's Not Unix
  • INX — INX's Not X (a GNU/Linux distribution with a text interface)
  • JACK — JACK Audio Connection Kit
  • LAME — LAME Ain't an MP3 Encoder[2]
  • LiVES — LiVES is a Video Editing System
  • MiNT — MiNT is Not TOS (later changed to "MiNT is Now TOS")
  • Mung — Mung Until No Good[3]
  • Nagios — Nagios Ain't Gonna Insist On Sainthood (which is a reference to the previous name of Nagios, namely Netsaint)
  • NiL — NiL Isn't Liero
  • PHP — PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor (originally "Personal Home Page")
  • P.I.P.S. Is POSIX on Symbian
  • PINE — PINE Is Nearly Elm, originally; PINE now officially stands for "Pine Internet News and E-mail"[4]
  • RPM — RPM Package Manager (originally "Red Hat Package Manager")
  • Scaled — Scaled Composites: Advanced Link to Efficient Development
  • SPARQL — SPARQL Protocol And RDF Query Language
  • SRL — SRL Resource Library
  • TiLP — TiLP is a Linking Program
  • TIP — TIP isn't Pico (name for earliest versions of nano text editor)
  • TTP — The TTP Project, the name given to a project lead by Dilbert
  • UIRA — UIRA Isn't a Recursive Acronym
  • WAM - WAM Account Manager
  • Wine — Wine Is Not an Emulator[5]
  • XBMC — XBMC Media Center (originally Xbox Media Center)
  • XINU — Xinu Is Not Unix
  • XNA — XNA's Not Acronymed
  • YAML — YAML Ain't Markup Language (initially "Yet Another Markup Language")
  • Zinf — Zinf Is Not Freeamp

Mutually recursive or otherwise special

  • The GNU Hurd project is named with a mutually recursive acronym: "Hurd" stands for "Hird of Unix-Replacing Daemons", and "Hird" stands for "Hurd of Interfaces Representing Depth."
  • The GNUBrain project is another mutually recursive acronym: "Brain" stands for "Brian relates any independent node" and "Brian" stands for "Brain implements a network".
  • RPM, PHP and YAML were originally conventional initialisms which were later redefined recursively. They are examples of, or may be referred to as, backronymization, where the official meaning of an acronym or initialism is changed.
  • Jini claims the distinction of being the first recursive anti-acronym. 'Jini Is Not Initials'. It might, however, be more properly termed an anti-backronym because the term "Jini" never stood for anything in the first place. The more recent "XNA," on the other hand, was deliberately designed that way.
  • Most recursive acronyms are recursive on the first letter, which is therefore an arbitrary choice, often selected for reasons of humour or ease of pronunciation. However YOPY, "Your own personal YOPY" is recursive on the last letter (hence the last letter had to be the same as the first).

Non-technical examples

Recursive acronyms are not limited to computing terminology. For example:

  • TIARA — TIARA is a recursive acronym[6]

Some organizations have been named or renamed in this way:

  • BWIA — BWIA West Indies Airways (formerly British West Indian Airways)
  • GES — GES Exposition Services (formerly Greyhound Exposition Services)
  • LINK — Link Interchange NetworK, the UK ATM switching organisation.
  • SaabSaab Automobile Aktiebolaget, formerly part of Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget, also known as Saab.
  • VISA — Visa International Service Association
  • ADAP — ADAP Discount Auto Parts
  • Heil — Heil Environmental Industries Limited, maker of garbage trucks
  • KLuB — Klub Linux Bandung (Linux Club of Bandung city)
  • RAS - RAS Acronym Syndrome, the recursive version of RAS syndrome; in which the last letter is repeated as its own word.
  • OIL — Oil India Limited

Fictional examples

  • In Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, published 1979, Douglas Hofstadter uses the acronym GOD, 'GOD Over Djinn'. As a genie explains to Achilles, GOD stands for GOD Over Djinn, remarking that "GOD can never be fully expanded." In the German translation it is rendered as "ZEUS ewig über Schinn", meaning "Zeus eternally over Djinn".
  • KOS-MOS — Kosmos Obey Strategical Multiple Operation Systems, from the video game series Xenosaga.
  • A recursive initialism appeared in a Dilbert comic strip, in which Dilbert states that the TTP project refers to The TTP Project (this is also an infinitely-redundant case of RAS syndrome).
  • In the TV show Twin Peaks, Laura Palmer figured that her nemesis, Bob, was an acronym for "Beware of Bob".
  • In the Archie Comics series Sonic the Hedgehog, the digital son of Eggman is named A.D.A.M., which has two meanings, one of which is "A.D.A.M. Determines Anonymous' Movements".
  • In an episode of M*A*S*H, Radar O'Reilly refers to A.W.O.L. as "A.W.O.L. without official leave".
  • In the DC Comics series Atari Force, ATARI originally stood for "Atari Technology And Research Institute," though this was changed to "Advanced Technology And Research Institute" in later issues.
  • In The Simpsons episode That 90's Show, Homer defines "GRUNGE" as Guitar Rock Utilizing Nihilist Grunge Energy.


  • This article is based in part on the Jargon File, which is in the public domain.

See also


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