While relaying a report on The University of Manchester's name a
little while ago
, I mentioned three initialisms that people now
staunchly maintain DO NOT STAND FOR ANYTHING
their history, of course): UMIST (one of the predecessors of Manchester
as we know it today), Texas A&M, and SRI International. Right
after that, I wondered out loud on the ADS-L if there was a name for
these things. I suggested the lame term opacinym
(for terms that had become
"opacified by institutional fiat"). But now we have a much better
candidate, orphan initialism
(the poor thing has lost its parents), and a runner-up, empty initialism
Dan Puckett of the San Antonio Express-News, who was moved to insert an
entry into the style book of his previous employer, the St. Petersburg
Times, about these annoying abbreviations. This was in mid-2005,
and the entry read:
Many initialisms no longer stand for anything. If one has changed
recently, inserting the former full name is a good idea: "the AARP,
formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons."
Some of the most common:
AAA: Formerly the American Automobile Association.
AARP: Formerly the American Association of Retired Persons.
ACT Assessment: Formerly the American College Test.
AT&T: Formerly American Telephone & Telegraph Co.
FFA: Formerly Future Farmers of America.
KFC: Formerly Kentucky Fried Chicken.
SAT: Formerly Scholastic Assessment Test, and before that, Scholastic
So nice to have a good crunchalicious term. A Golden Terminology
Palm to Dan.
Soon after, orphan acronym appeared
on the net
(for what are in fact initialisms, with the names of the
letters pronounced separately, rather than the whole thing being
pronounced as a solid word, as radar
are; NARAL is an
actual orphan acronym):
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Do the Hustle
You can count me as one of those people who've never forgiven AMC -- it
used to stand for "American Movie Classics"; now it's an orphan
acronym, like KFC -- for adding commercials and dropping its former
emphasis on classic movies.
posted by John @ 1:36 PM
A Silver Terminology Palm to John of aatwfilm.blogspot.com.
No doubt claimants will appear to demand their awards for earlier uses
of the term, but I'm sticking with Dan, because he got to me first.
On ADS-L (9/6/06), Ben Zimmer then supplied two links to net
discussions of the phenomenon (without a label), on Slate
, and added
ESPN and the acronym IHOP to the list of examples. There are, of
course, many more examples, and probably more public discussions of
orphans; they're the sort of thing that people notice.
Meanwhile, the term empty acronym
(for what should be empty initialism
if we're being sticklers) has gotten some play. Another Silver
Terminology Palm for:
Other mentions of "empty acronyms" refer to acronyms or initialisms
that aren't orphans, because they never had parents, never were
abbreviations: a t-shirt saying "I.C.O.N.", which truly DIDN'T
stand for anything (link
except maybe the word icon
and "NRG" (link
which is just a way of spelling energy
(though, entertainingly, there seems to be a company called "NRG
Energy, Inc." -- is there an echo in here?).
What makes orphan initialisms so annoying is that they LOOK
like they ought to have calculable content, but are presented as just a
string of letters. They frustrate the natural human desire to
find compositional meaning in things that so ostentatiously look as if
they should have one.
zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu
Posted by Arnold Zwicky at September 7, 2006 02:43 AM