Backronym


Backronym

A backronym or bacronym is a phrase constructed purposely, such that an acronym can be formed to a specific desired word. Backronyms may be invented with serious or humorous intent, or may be a type of false or folk etymology.

The word is a combination (a portmanteau or a blend) of backward and acronym, and has been defined as a "reverse acronym".[1] Its earliest known citation in print is as "bacronym" in the November 1983 edition of the Washington Post monthly neologism contest. The newspaper 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]

Contents

Differences from acronyms

An acronym is a word derived from the initial letters of the words 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.

Examples

Backronyms can be constructed for educational purposes, for example to form mnemonics. An example of such a mnemonic is the Apgar score, used to assess the health of newborn babies. The rating system was devised by and named after Virginia Apgar, but ten years after the initial publication, the backronym APGAR was coined in the US as a mnemonic learning aid: Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration.[5]

Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs use backronyms as teaching tools, similar to slogans such as "one day at a time", or "Let go, let God", but often with an ironic edge. For example, a slip may be expanded as "Sobriety Losing Its Priority",[6] and denial as "Don't Even Notice I Am Lying".[7]

Backronyms are also created as jokes, often expressing consumer loyalties or frustration. For example, the name of the restaurant chain Arby's is a play on "RB", referring to "roast beef" as well as the company's founders, the Raffel brothers. An advertising campaign in the 1980s created a backronym with the slogan "America’s Roast Beef, Yes Sir!"[8]

Many companies or products spawn multiple humorous backronyms, with positive connotations asserted by supporters or negative ones by detractors. For example, Ford, the car company founded by Henry Ford, was said to stand for "First On Race Day" among aficionados[9] but disparaged as "Fix Or Repair Daily" and "Found On Road, Dead" by critics.[10]

NASA named its ISS treadmill the Combined Operational Load-Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT) after Stephen Colbert. The backronym was a lighthearted compromise in recognition of the comedian's ability to sway NASA's online vote for the naming of an ISS module[11].

False acronyms

Sometimes the backronym is so commonly heard that it is widely but incorrectly believed to have been used in the formation of the word, and amounts to a false etymology or an urban legend. Examples include posh, an adjective describing stylish items or members of the upper class. A popular story derives the word as an acronym from "Port Out, Starboard Home", referring to first class cabins shaded from the sun on outbound voyages east and homeward heading voyages west.[12] The word's actual etymology is unknown, but it may relate to Romani påš xåra ("half-penny") or to Urdu safed-pōśh (one who wears "white robes"), a derogatory term for wealthy people.[13]

Other examples include the brand name Adidas, named for company founder Adolf "Adi" Dassler but falsely believed to be an acronym for "All Day I Dream About Sports";[14] wiki, said to mean "What I Know Is",[15] but in fact derived from the Hawaiian phrase wiki wiki meaning "fast";[16] or Yahoo!, sometimes claimed to mean "Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle", but in fact chosen because Yahoo's founders liked the word's meaning of "rude, unsophisticated, uncouth."[17] The name of sport golf was also incorrectly rumored to have been based on the backronym "Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden."[18]

The distress signal "SOS" is often believed to be an abbreviation for "Save Our Ship". In fact, it was chosen because it has a simple Morse Code representation – three dots, three dashes, then three more dots – which becomes three-dits/three-dahs/three-dits, run together as if it were a single letter.[citation needed] Likewise, its predecessor "CQD" is often thought to be an acronym of "Come Quick, Danger", "Come Quickly Distress", "Come Quick – Drowning!", or some variation on these. In fact, it was chosen because "CQ" (from the "sécu" of the French "sécurité") was used as a general radio call. The "D" was appended to form a distress signal, indeed coming from the word "distress".[dubious ]

As lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower points out in his book The F-Word, acronyms were rare prior to the twentieth century, and most etymologies of common words or phrases that suggest origin from an acronym are false.[19]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b McFedries, Paul. "bacronym". Word Spy: The World Lover's Guide to New Words. WordSpy.com. http://www.wordspy.com/words/bacronym.asp. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  2. ^ "Acronym". Dictionary.com. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/acronym. Retrieved 2006-11-15. 
  3. ^ NASA. "RADAR means: Radio Detection and Ranging". Nasa Explores. Archived from the original on 2007-10-14. http://web.archive.org/web/20071014061010/http://nasaexplores.com/show_k4_teacher_st.php?id=030703122033. 
  4. ^ "AMBER Alert - America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response". Amberalert.gov. 2007-11-01. http://www.amberalert.gov/. Retrieved 2010-07-08. 
  5. ^ "The Virginia Apgar Papers - Obstetric Anesthesia and a Scorecard for Newborns, 1949-1958". U.S. National Library of Medicine, NIH. http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/CP/Views/Exhibit/narrative/obstetric.html. Retrieved 2008-11-18. 
  6. ^ Keep Coming Back: Humor and Wisdom for Living and Loving Recovery by Meiji Stewart Google Books Result. Hazelden Publishing. 1999. ISBN 9781568383781. http://books.google.com/books?id=gf4y3fdElKgC&pg=PA79&dq=%22Sobriety+losing+its+priority%22. Retrieved 2008-07-08. 
  7. ^ Lord Wolf Designs. "Recovery Related Acronyms and Meanings for A.A. & N.A. use". 12-steps-recovery.com. http://12-steps-recovery.com/library/acronyms.html. Retrieved 2010-07-08. 
  8. ^ Gross, Daniel (2009-11-07). "Too Much Beef: Why Arby's is so low on the restaurant food chain.". Slate.com. http://www.slate.com/id/2234863/. Retrieved 2010-07-08. 
  9. ^ "Drag Racing's Internet Magazine". Competition Plus.com. http://www.competitionplus.com/2006_07/dick_brannan.html. Retrieved 2010-07-08. 
  10. ^ ConsumerNet, Inc.. "Automotive Humor, Car Jokes". Carbuyingtips.com. http://www.carbuyingtips.com/humor.htm. Retrieved 2010-07-08. 
  11. ^ http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/behindscenes/colberttreadmill.html
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ "posh, adj. and n.". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009. 
  14. ^ All Day I Dream About Sport: The Story of the Adidas Brand, ISBN 1904879128
  15. ^ "The wiki principle". Economist.com. 2006-04-20. http://www.economist.com/surveys/displaystory.cfm?story_id=6794228. Retrieved 2006-11-15. 
  16. ^ "wiki - Definitions from Dictionary.com". http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/wiki. Retrieved 2006-11-15. 
  17. ^ "The History of Yahoo! - How It All Started...". Yahoo.com. http://docs.yahoo.com/info/misc/history.html. Retrieved 2011-07-14. 
  18. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". Etymonline.com. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=golf&searchmode=none. Retrieved 2011-10-03. 
  19. ^ Sheidlower, Jesse (2009). The F-Word. New York: Oxford University Press US. ISBN 0195393112. 

External links


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