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A backronym or bacronym is a phrase constructed after the fact to make an existing word or words into an acronym. Backronyms may be invented with serious or humorous intent, or may be a type of false or folk etymology.

The word is understood as a portmanteau combining back and acronym. Its earliest known citation in print is "bacronym" in the November 1983 edition of the Washington Post monthly neologism contest (1983–2004): journalist Bob Levey 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." Actual use of the word is found in texts since at least 1994.

Backronym versus acronym

An acronym is a word derived from the initial letters of a phrase: For example, the word radar comes from "Radio Detection and Ranging".

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 Justicemarker assigns to their Amber Alert program the meaning "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response."[6311], although the term originally referred to Amber Hagerman, a 9-year old abducted and murdered in Texasmarker in 1996.

The idea that a backronym, like an acronym, is a pronounceable word, is sometimes broken, even by dictionaries providing examples such as DVD (an initialism) and SOS (a representation of the emergency signal used in Morse code).



Backronyms can be constructed for educational purposes, for example to form mnemonics so that the new initialism is easier to remember.

An example of such a mnemonic is the Apgar score, used to assess the health of newborn children. The rating system was devised by and named after Virginia Apgar, but ten years after the initial publication, the backronym APGARwas coined in the US as a mnemonic learning aid: Appearance (skin color), Pulse (heart rate), Grimace (reflex irritability), Activity (muscle tone), and Respiration.

12-step programs

Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs have a verbal culture that makes extensive use of backronyms. They're used as teaching tools, similar to slogans such as "one day at a time," or "Let go, let God," but often have an ironic edge.
  • God = Good Orderly Direction
  • Halt = Hungry Angry Lonely or Tired
  • Fear = False Evidence Appearing Real / Forgetting everything is all right / Forget Everything And Run / Face Everything And Recover
  • Slip = Sobriety Losing Its Priority
  • Denial = Don't Even Notice I Am Lying
  • Fine = Fucked up (or Freaked out), Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional

Jokes and pejorative meanings

Backronyms proliferate as a kind of folklore, communicating humorous derogation and expressing consumer loyalties. For example:

  • Delta - Doesn't Ever Leave The Airport.
  • Fiatmarker - Fix It Again Tony/Tomorrow. (Actually an acronym for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino.)
  • Ford - Fix Or Repair Daily.
  • Iacocca - I Am Chairman Of Chrysler Corporation America - referring to American businessman Lee Iacocca.
  • NTSC - Never Twice the Same Color, or No True Skin Color
  • PCMCIA - People Can't Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms
  • TWAIN - Technology Without An Interesting Name.

False acronyms

Sometimes the backronym is so commonly heard, that it is generally but incorrectly believed to have been used in the formation of the word, and amounts to a folk etymology or an urban legend. Examples of these include:

  • The word wiki, halved from the Hawaiian phrase "wiki wiki" meaning "fast". Since its application to consumer generated media, some have suggested that "wiki" means "What I Know Is".
  • Adidas has been explained as "All Day I Dream About Sports". The word Adidas actually comes from the nickname of the company's founder, Adi Dassler. It was also alternatively backronymed as "All Day I Dream About Sex", a backronym popularized by the band Korn and rapper Killer Mike, who recorded a song A.D.I.D.A.S.. In Spanish, a popular and sarcastic backronym for Adidas is "Asociación De Idiotas Dispuestos A Superarse" ("Association Of Idiots Willing To Improve"). In Dutch, a similar joke exists, "Alle Domme Idioten Doen Aan Sport" ("All dumb idiots engage in sports")
  • Kiss is simply the name of the band, but an urban legend developed which claims that the letters stand for "Knights In Satan's Service"; other versions use "Kings" or "Kids" instead of "Knights".
  • Posh did not originally stand for "Port Out, Starboard Home" (referring to 1st class cabins shaded from the sun on outbound voyages east, and homeward heading voyages west). The musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang popularized this erroneous etymology.

  • Golf is not an acronym for "Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden" as has been suggested. It is actually derived from the old Scots name for the game, gowf. This word may, in turn, be related to the Dutch word kolf, meaning "bat", or "club", and the Dutch sport called Kolven.

  • Ping does not stand for "Packet InterNet Grouper", "Packet InterNet Groper", "Packet InterNet Gopher" or any such phrase. The name is merely a reference to sonar.
  • Microsoft's Bing service has been likened to the backronym "But It's Not Google" or the recursive backronym "BING Is Not Google".
  • The word fuck is sometimes falsely claimed to be derived from "for unlawful carnal knowledge", words allegedly placed above people being punished for adultery in Puritan stockades. The hard rock band Van Halen used this phrase as the title of their 1991 album. Fuck is also known as "fornication under consent of King". Actually, it is of Common Germanic origin and has absolutely nothing to do with acronyms.

See also

External links


  1. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly: Volume: 10 Issue: 1/2, ISSN: 0734-7324 Pub Date: 8/6/1993 "Working the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous with a Client A Counseling Opportunity" Dan L. Thompson PhD
  2. [1]
  3. [2]
  5.,8599,1895296,00.html Can Americans Learn to Love Fiat? Chrysler Hopes So
  9. Jain, Anal K., Fundamentals of Digital Image Processing, Upper Saddle River NJ: Prentice Hall, 1989, p. 82.
  11. All Day I Dream About Sport: The Story of the Adidas Brand, ISBN 1904879128
  12. .
  13. Brothers, Fletcher A. in "The Rock Report", 1987 cites a January 1980 American Photographer article as his source.
  14. ; published in the US as
  15. See article at Snopes.

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