7. Acronyms

by H. W. Moss

New words can be created by stringing a series of letters together which stand for something and then pronouncing whatever comes out. These new words are called acronyms.

“Scuba” is a good example. We know it has to do with undersea breathing and the word is now in common parlance. But there was a time not so very long ago when it simply did not exist. That’s because it was formed by taking the first letters of a description, “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus,” and pronouncing them. Obviously, prior to humans being able to breathe under water, there was no such word as “scuba.”

ASAP is not a good example of an acronym. If you say A – S – A – P and pronounce every individual letter, that is not an acronym. However, if you say something like “a-sap,” that is an acronym even if it sounds a little silly.

Radar comes from the first letters of the phrase “radio detecting and ranging.” It is also a palindrome, but we won’t go there.

I recently wrote an article which appeared in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. It came out with a bold faced headline that read: Billing snafu. That’s a good acronym, snafu. It comes from the military, I believe, and has two definitions depending on if you are looking it up in a family oriented dictionary or one that deals in slang. My old Webster’s gives the origin as “situation normal all fouled up.” When my father explained where the word came from and that it was an acronym, he used a different word than “fouled,” but he was former Army.

Compare an acronym to an acrostic. An acrostic uses letters in a set of words to form another word. Poets like to do this. They woo a lover or pine for one by penning verses wherein the first letters of each line form the name of their inamorata.

Naturally there is a website on the subject of acronyms and it is AcronymFinder.com where they claim there are at least 304,000 of these creatures. However, in addition to true acronyms, the author of this site has chosen to include abbreviations and “initialisms,” which is not a word in my dictionary.

My old Webster’s defines “initialed” with one or two “els” and initialing with one or two “els,” but no “initialism,” which here appears to be being used as a noun, as in, “hand me that initialism, would you Bob?” But remember, my dictionary is old.

At acronymfinder.com you will learn that NAZI is an acronym taken from the first word in the phrase Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP), the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. However, if you wish to learn the acronymic origin of the word “tip,” the money you give a waitperson over and above the amount of the bill, AcronymFinder will bombard you with over a hundred hits and I could not find “To Insure Promptness” among them.

My friend Welcome says that’s the acronymic origin of “tip.”

My friend Ray has a favorite acronym: KISS. The origin is “Keep It Simple Stupid.” Ray uses it at work a lot and around the campfire when we went fishing.

I have long believed the word “news,” like in the daily news, is an acronym for North, East, West and South. But not according to that old Webster’s of mine which says it is a noun and the plural of “new.” However, AcronymFinder.com says “news” is also an acronym for Naval Electronic Warfare Simulator, Naval Environmental Watch Steward, NetWare Early Warning System and the Network Windowing System. Then at the very end it says it’s the first letters of North East West and South.

Someone, I think it was my brother Francis who is a Major in the Army, told me the Army actually makes up the acronym first, then assigns it a meaning. For example, the acronym spells LINE. Captain Question says to Sergeant Meaning, “We’ll call it project LINE.”

The Sergeant replies, “We can make that stand for Laser Integrated Network Engine.”

Major: “But there is no laser involved. And besides, do you think that’s an appropriate name for a potato peeler?”

In order to search the AcronymFinder site they ask you to “Type in the acronym in upper or lower case and press Enter or click the Find button. Acronyms may contain a space or other characters (but only if that’s the way they are written).”

My only problem with these directions is it’s sort of the reverse of what I want to do here. Typing in a word is like shooting into a barrel of fish. I don’t know that a word is an acronym unless I know what it stands for. As such, I would not need to find it. Therefore, the site ought to be able to suggest words that are acronyms and THEN you can go find what they originally stood for.

There is a page at the site where you can generate your own new acronym. All you have to do is land there and, voila, you create one. In my case, I belched out Integrated Transitional Flexibility (ITF) when I went to the page containing Broughton’s Systematic Buzz Phrase Projector (SBPP).

The site explains that in 1968 Newsweek magazine published a short humorous article, “How to Win at Wordsmanship,” by Philip Broughton which took a word from column A and added it to a word in column B along with another word in column C from which the first three letters were taken with the happy result that a new Buzz Phrase Acronym was born. This was essentially how a Time Magazine article in the 60’s (I actually have no idea if it was really Time nor when the article was actually published) claimed rock groups were named and cited Jefferson Airplane and Led Zeppelin as examples.

One of the oddest things to do at the AcronymFinder site is type in any word, literally any word you can think of, and see if it is an acronym for something. I tried the first word that popped into my head, for some reason it started with an A, and for “assist” (which, when you think about it, probably should have some kind of acronym associated with it) got: Able Students Supporting Instructing and Servicing Technology, Acquisition Source Selection Interactive Support Tool, Acquisition Streamlining and Standardization Information System, Army Source Selection Interactive Support Tool, Army System for Standard Intelligence Support Terminal, Automated Special Security Information System Terminal and, last but not least, Automated Systems Security Incident Support Team whatever the hell any of these might actually be, do or mean.

There is a lot of army stuff in that list. But, then, that’s what the Army does. They have an acronym for everything. Yet the word “army” has no greater acronymic meaning, according to this website. It is just what it is.

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