Is there a term for a back-engineered acronym?

I saw this question on another board, and it could be that there is no special word.

Let’s say someone comes up with a buzz-word for something, then retrofits words into the letters to try to make it meaningful for the abbreviation. You see them a lot at sporting events. (Like a Cowboys/Redskins game on CBS, some chucklehead is holding a sign that seat “Cowboys Beat Skins”)

Some examples from real life:
PR/SM (prounounced “prism”): a product by a major computer manufacturer allowing multiple operating systems on one mainframe box (not absolutely correct, but you see the point)
WIN: (from the 70s) Whip Inflation Now
COYOTE: Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics (a hooker organization)
*SHADO: Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defense Organization
(And some from my work)
RESPECT: (Trust me–it’s awful)
SACRED: (That’s even worse)
SMILE: Smiles make it [a] little easier

OK, you see what I mean. Is there such a word? “Retrogram” would be a good one. If it ever catches on, you heard it hear first (or at least, independently).

*OK, not exactly real life, but I’d bet that Gerry Anderson started with “Shadow,” then worked in words to fit it.

The Jargon File aka jargon.txt aka New Hackers’ Dictionary refers to such a formation as a “backronym”, which works pretty well.

Some other ones, mostly from the Jargon file :

BASIC - Beginners’ All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code
MUNG - mung until no good
CYGNUS - Cygnus, Your GNU support
FORD - Found On Road Dead, Fix Or Repair Daily
EMACS - EMACS Makes A Computer Slow, Eventually Mallocs All Computer Storage, Esc-Meta-Alt-Ctrl-Shift

The book “Family Words” that I cited in another thread suggests “backronym” for such an acronym in which the words are made to fit the pre-chosen acronym. It’s not an “official” term, of course. My favorite backronym is “MOBY-DIC” for a robot fish-tracker . (Motorized Observation Biotelemetry Yacht- Data Integration and Control)

Is there a term for a non-acronym? A case, that is, where they have an acronym all picked out – and which they use – but for which no one was clever enough to figure out a set of words to fit to it? I know of one such case – At Cornell University they have CESR, the Cornell Electron Storage Ring. Occasionally they siphon off electrons from this an collide them with positrons in an electron-positron annihilation chamber and detector called CLEO. CLEO is obviously the mate to CESR, but it doesn’t stand for anything. My guess is that they chose CLEO rather than PORTIA because it had that “C” they could use for “Cornell”, but that’s as far as they got.

it’s a bacronym, silly!
My favorite is TWAIN, as in the scanner protocol:

Technology Without An Interesting Name

Oops! Sorry, Cal! Can’t even claim it was a simulpost, I just missed that sentence in your posting.

I remember these buttons - some people wore them upside-down:

NIM: No Immediate Miracles

I think technically they are still acronyms (though I like backronym). Many acronyms are formed specifically for this reason.

And your “Cowboys Beat Skins” example is more formally called an initialism since CBS is not a word.

F*cking Old Rebuild Dodge

Oh, then there are recursive acronyms, acronyms that refer to themselves. The Jargon File gives these examples: EINE (EINE Is Not EMACS), ZWEI (ZWEI Was EINE Initially), and GNU (GNU’s Not Unix).

“Erm, I think we’re all beginning to lose sight of the real issue here, which is: what are we going to call ourselves? And I think it comes down to a choice between ‘The League Against Salivating Monsters’, or – and this is my personal preference – ‘The Committee for the Liberation and Integration of Terrifying Organisms and their Rehabilitation Into Society’. Erm, one drawback with that – the abbreviation is C.L.I.T.O.R.I.S.”

Me again.

Now that I’ve actually read the Jargon File’s definition of backronym, I don’t think it fits.

A word interpreted as an acronym that was not originally so intended.*

This is different than what Mjollnir was asking, which is a term for a word that is intended to be an acronym and where the acronym was the starting point rather than then ending point. A backronym was not origiinally meant to be an acronym, but people have interpretted it that way (usually facetiously). I don’t think there is a term for this. Mjollnir suggested retrogram, but I think *retronym[/] would be more in keeping with the terminology.

Apart from my vB coding errors, spelling mistakes, and the fact that retronym is already a term meaning something else, not a bad post. :rolleyes:

I think I should stop posting in this thread for a while.

I was just going to say I had always heard the term “retronym” used when the “acronym” was developed first then it was decided what the letters stood for.

And for weird acronyms… A group I am part of actually had a position “Co-Leader In Training” or CLIT.

It’s Mr./Ms. Acronym himself/herself! Retronym is actually:

(So I lied about not posting in this thread for a while.)

Nice Red Dwarf Reference :slight_smile:

I really like Bacronym, but if you’re looking for
something else, howabout “Mynorca”?

If nothing else, it sounds like a little Greek


How about self-referential backronyms like the above mentioned MUNG or PINE (Pine Is Not Elm)?

Um, according to the readme file that comes with PINE, it’s “Program for Internet News and Email”. And for other great acronyms, there’s always INTERCAL (Computer Language with No Pronounceable Acronym), or from Dilbert, The TTP Project, which, of course, stands for “The TTP Project”.

I am willing to bet that the majority of acronyms are developed in just this way. Think about it. Its about a thousand times harder to stumble upon a string of words that coincidentally spell out something with their initials.
Most acronyms are built to serve an agenda, no?
I have one that I am trying to get published in my local paper, so far with no success. There is a story to go along with it so if you don’t mind…I’ll expound:

[acronymic rant and explanatory story deleted]

I’ll let you decypher.
Thanks again for letting me rant.

[Edited by Chronos on 02-11-2001 at 01:59 PM]

You kind of lost me at “useless rear solvent.” The actual meaning took a while to dawn on me. I was trying to wrap my brain around the notion of a solvent used on the rear when I realized I was reading it the wrong way.

If the rear solvent you have purchased is useless, go to the store and demand your money back, and purchase a different brand of rear solvent. Don’t use other kinds of solvent when only rear solvent will do.