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Interesting Etymologies 36 : Acronyms

"Hello again Word Lovers!" and in this instalment we are going to look at words formed from initial letters, known as acronyms. These are not to be confused with initialisms, which do not form new words. - F.B.I, C.I.A for example. AIDS is an acronym, H.I.V is an initialism.

LASER - Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

This was a copy of MASER (Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) but has produced another generation of acronym with TASER (Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle). This is in fact, not the name of its inventor, which was Mr. Jack Cover, but actually a character who invented amazing gadgets in a series of books that were a childhood favourite of Cover.

SCUBA - Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus

RADAR - Radio Detecting And Ranging

General Purpose Vehicle as an Initialism is GPV. But shortened to GP it becomes the very well known Jeep.

ZIP Codes - Zone Improvement Plan in the US.

GIF - Graphics Interchange Format

Yuppie - Young UPwardly mobile Individual

Campaigners that protested local environmental issues became known as NIMBYS (Not In My Back Yard)

SMART Car is an acronym of Swatch Mercedes ART

An AGA cooker oven is Swedish invention developed at the AGA company (Aktiebolaget Svenska Gasaccumulator Swedish for Swedish Gas Accumulator Ltd.)

The Gestapo - The German Secret State Police was an acronym of GEheime STAatsPOlizei.

Glavnoye Upravleniye Ispravitelno-Trudovykh Lagerey, (Russian: “Chief Administration of Corrective Labour Camps”) or Gulag.

World War II Acronyms (see more etymology of WWII in IE30) :

JANFU - Joint Army and Navy Fuck Up

SNAFU - Situation Normal, All Fucked Up

FUBAR - Fucked Up Beyond All Repair

SIM card in a mobile phone - Subscriber Identification Module

CAPTCHA - The procedure to check if you are a real person and not a bot online - Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart. The fact it sounds like Screen Capture is useful.

PIN - Personal Identification Number - If number is already part of the acronym why do so many people say number after PIN?

ATM - An automatic bank machine, or Automatic Teller Machine, why say machine after the acronym? Most Brits use the noun cash machine rather than ATM.

ABS - Advance Braking System - But we are effectively saying Advanced Braking System Braking System when we say ABS Braking System.

Actur, the neighbourhood in Zaragoza is from an acronym : ACTuaciones Urbanísticas uRgentes - Urgent Urban Action

Durign Aparthied South Africa many regions of hardship developed global infamy. One was known as the SOuth WEstern TOwnships; Soweto.

Finally a whole country name derived from an acronym:

A country made of the regions/peoples of:






The name actually means "a land abounding in the pure" (the suffix -Stan meaning "a place abounding in" and "Pak" meaning pure. The acronym was first coined in 1933 by Choudhry Rhmat Ali, an activist who published the name in a pamphlet.

Explore the full Interesting Etymologies series archive here

As well as being the host of our Interesting Etymologies series, Charly Taylor is a stand up comedian and author. His latest offering is available now:

SkipDeLirio's Worst Ever Gig : A novel by Charly Taylor

Caesar’s army has returned from the long campaign in Gaul and the enemy has been all but defeated. Some of Pompey’s army, however, remains in Africa. Together with straggling Roman rebels and the local king Juba, they are gathering forces to prepare one last attack on what is now Caesar’s Rome. But there is one problem – a descendant of Scipio Africanus is fighting on the side of the Africans. And without a Scipio of their own, the superstitious Romans refuse to go to Africa to fight.

So Caesar sends out soldiers to find himself a Scipio. Luckily, there is a man of such name right there in Rome – a local drunkard and tavern entertainer distantly descended from the legendary warrior. Kidnapped solely on account of his ‘heritage’, the lowly clown is forced to lead out the troops in the battle of Thapsus. There, ‘history’ tells us, Scipio ‘disappears from the historical record’.

Until now.

This is the story of how ‘Nobody’ Skip DeLirio, with the cards finally all dealt in his favour, still managed to fuck it up. History will only take you so far. The rest is make-believe.

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