Acrocrostic is my coinage for a phenomenon that’s part acrostic and part acronym.

Acrostics, for those not familiar with them, are a way of embedding a hidden message in an otherwise innocuous communiqué. For example, Schwarzenegger flipped off a California assemblyperson with one. There’ve been others recently that have messages to the president.

So exactly what’s an acrocrostic? It’s where there’s a collection of names put in a certain order where the initial letters form something that could be pronounced. It doesn’t have to be an English word, just have a spelling that could be pronounced. Examples:

[li]FANG stocks – four stocks widely traded today: Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google.[/li][li]PIIGS – five economically weak EU countries: Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain[/li][li]BRICS – five emerging economic countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa[/li][/ul]

Note that acrocrostics are not new. There are a number of place names that are acrocrostics. Here’s a list of them I compiled for Wikipedia. I don’t know the dates of all of them but the earliest I could find was coined in 1869. Note that I didn’t have a good name for them, so just called them “initialisms”. I just came up with the word acrocrostic last night. It’s not the best name, since it’ll probably be confused with one of the two words it’s a blend of. Anyone have a better name?

Here in RI we have Chariho High School that covers the towns of Charleston, Richmond, and Hopkinton.

OK, added Chariho. Or rather moved it from the list of portmanteaus where I’d mistakenly placed it.

I suppose that Coalinga, CA is more of a portmanteau. It comes from Coaling (Station) A.

I’m not sure exactly what Coalinga is. It doesn’t seem to be either acronym or portmanteau. I suppose it might be a contraction since it’s leaving out part of the orginal name.

Thought of another acrocrostic: CHONPS: the 6 elements that all life forms have: Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Sulfur.

Does anyone know of any other acrocrostics? Ones that aren’t place names?

I don’t get what makes these different from a regular acronym. What makes them like an acrostic.

Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad formed the band ABBA.

They’re what you get when you take a regular acronym and write them out with each word on a separate line, I guess:


Amplification by
Emission of
I’m not sure where that leaves Chariho, though.

dtilque: Doesn’t an acrostic need to be a properly-spelled and commonly-known word?

No, I don’t think that’s
a thing that you need to
worry about when making one.

I think it’s also usually a key feature of acrostics, that the acrostic word is not the apparent topic of the writing - related perhaps, but not the same.

Also, acrostics are usually (not always) based on the first letters of entire lines of writing, or even of paragraphs or chapters - not usually first letters of each word.

Was this intended to criticize my spontaneous acrostic? I
had thought I did well just coming up with it so quickly, but
you’re apparently harder to impress than that.

STEM comes to mind, referring to the collection of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

There are a ton of medical mnemonics that I guess would count: RATS is Radial, Axillary, Thoracodorsal, Subscapular; MALES is Masks, Airways, Laryngoscopes, Endotracheal tubes, Suction; etc. Not exactly in common usage, though.

The way I’m interpreting it, in an acrocrostic, the original collection of words has no inherent order to it; the order is chosen solely to make the word pronounceable. In a pure acronym (like LASER), the underlying order is meaningful and the words themselves have to be tweaked to make it pronounceable.

Acrostic: a message in some text. You compose the message (often, but not necessarily, a single word) and then write text where the first letter of each word, line, sentence, or paragraph is your message. The text can be anything; originally they were usually poems (acrostics go back a long ways in English and even further in Latin and Greek.)

Acronym: an abbreviation of a multi-word term based on the first letters of each word in the term. Sometimes you make them from the first two or more letters of some of the words to get a pronounceable acronym. But the key point is that the order of the words are fixed, you can’t rearrange them.

Acrocrostics have some, but not all, features of each. It’s not an acronym, because it’s not an abbreviation of a multi-word term. It’s not an acrostic, because you have no choice in the words that make up the text. You just have a collection of words or names that you want a short-hand term for. But those words are not in any fixed order. So you arrange them in an order so the first letters make up something that can be pronounced. If it’s actually a word, great, but that’s not strictly necessary.

OK, a lot of people will just call them acronyms. I suppose I’m splitting hairs here distinguishing these from acronyms. But I think it’s a significant distinction. YMMV.

I just thought of a very old acrocrostic that became a word in English: CABAL. I don’t think anyone calls that word an acronym, although I’ve seen it called an acrostic. Yes, it was in occasional use before the reign of Charles II, but would it have actually become a word in English without the acrocrostic made up of five of his councillors’ names? That certainly put it on the map, so to speak.

Would NSEW (the cardinal directions, pronounced ‘ensue’) be too tortured?

That’s actually the usual order that directions are listed; it’s only the pronunciation that’s tortured. However, it’s common for the directions to be reordered to form NEWS. That’s definitely an acrocrostic.

I didn’t see HOMES in the list for the Great Lakes.

Because you asked, I’ve written another one.
Examples are sometimes hard to come up with.
Geniuses may struggle over a good one for hours.
But I’m no genius, and this one is pretty mediocre.
Eventually, I’ll get to the end of it.
Regarding beauty and style, it has little to recommend it.
The main thing is, it demonstrates my point.
2 things with different names and different characteristics can be differentiated.


…Your examples are good, but they’re more acronym-like and less acrostic-like. The categories do sort of overlap a bit, but when you’re talking about and demonstrating both at once on the same page, it makes sense to emphasize the differences, rather than to say they’re the same thing anyway. Because saying they’re the same thing anyway kind of defeats the purpose.

Does any one have any more that are not terribly obscure? I’m writing a trivia quiz and want to use them, but could use two or three more.

HOMES, STEM and ABBA are all good ones, BTW. Thanks for those.