New Word: ‘Backronym’

I encountered a new, perhaps experimental, word today: Backronym (“a reverse acronym, that is, the words of the expanded term were chosen to fit the letters of the acronym”). I'm not sure I like it.

I do like retronym (“a new word or phrase coined for an old object or concept whose original name has become used for something else or is no longer unique”) though. It's nice to have a name for phrases like 'analog clock' or 'rotary phone' or 'dead tree book'.

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8 Responses to New Word: ‘Backronym’

  1. Jim says:

    “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”–Fezzik, from The Princess Bride

    Actually, looking at the examples in Wikipedia, “backronym” does not mean what I thought it did. Is there a name for instances where the acronym was invented first, then the words were made to fit. The most egregious example is USA PATRIOT, or “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism” Act.

  2. michael says:

    “Politics” ?

  3. Night Owl says:

    A good ‘backronym’:

    Community Oriented Policing Services = COPS

  4. Evelyn Blaine says:

    The oldest backronym I can think of doesn’t appear on the Wikipedia page: the Jesuit symbol “IHS” has been expanded for centuries as “Iesus Hominum Salvator”, but in reality it’s just a badly transcribed Iota-eta-sigma (from the Greek Iesous). Probably the most famous, I would guess, is the folk-etymology involving “for unlawful carnal knowledge”, which one still hears occasionally. I think Eric Partridge already mentions it in one of his books from the 1940s. My favourite from the Wikipedia list, though, is the following:

    H2SO4 – hot hot searing! ouch ouch ouch ouch!

  5. Khuloud says:

    Jim’s post is fascinating and there have to be many other examples; it seems to me that our government invents them every time they want political cover. But the first reverse acronym I came across, and the only one which still comes to mind, is FATAH. The word itself means “new beginning” or/and “victory/triumph” in English, but taken in reverse order the letters stand, in Arabic, for “Palestine Liberation Movement.” Read from left to right, as we do in English, it still reads the same, the F the capital letter of Palestine, the T of Liberation and the H of Movement.

    Convoluted, yes, and I doubt many reverse acronyms are so nifty.

  6. Vadranor says:

    And then there is RICO (the “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act”), which is a truly great acronym, but a terrible title.

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  8. Joe says:

    Rico would make a good mob nickname.


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