Backro Nym

From the JargonFile entry :

[portmanteau of back + acronym] A word interpreted as an acronym that was not originally so intended. This is a special case of what linguists call back formation. Examples are given under recursive acronym (Cygnus), Acme, and mung. Discovering backronyms is a common form of wordplay among hackers.

Some acronyms get backronymmed as they are invented, and some are backronymmed after the fact.

The JargonFile definition is pretty clear that "backronym" only applies to after-the-fact back formation.

A similar word is AproNym - from a propos/appropriate and acronym. An AproNym is an acronym which means something appropriate to its expanded version, whether created back, forward or sideways, and whether or not the word was originally thought to have stood for something else as in the case of OK (see EtymologyOfOkay) or PCMCIA. 'RESISTORS' as mentioned above is an apronym, as is USA PATRIOT (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Some people enjoy making up apronyms of ordinary words, as a form of wordplay.

So for example "Using Superior Armed Power, America Threatens Recalcitrant Individuals Opposing Them" (courtesy Tony McCoy O'Grady) is a backronym of an apronym.

For example...

Not originally so intended:

Didn't get adopted, but should have:

Regarding FUBAR, from the JargonFile:

Early versions of the Jargon File interpreted this change as a post-war bowdlerization, but it it now seems more likely that FUBAR was itself a derivative of `foo' perhaps influenced by German `furchtbar' (terrible) - `foobar' may actually have been the original form.

entire entry:

OK is the subject of some debate. Some say it was a Dutch abbreviation for "Oll Korrect", but others claim a Wolof ancestry. See EtymologyOfOkay.

This collection wouldn't be complete without "posh" - most commonly said to be derived from "Port Out - Starboard Home", as this was said to keep you on the cooler side of the ship. Also the subject of much debate! Cooler in Northern Hemisphere if your "out" is east and "home" is west. NewYorkCityCulturalAssumption???

Although it appeared in an earlier version of the list above, GNU ("GNU's not Unix") is not a backronym. RMS looked for things fitting the "____ is not Unix" template and, finding none he liked, moved to "____'s not Unix". The acronym does not predate its expansion.

I thought it was a play on YACC (YetAnotherCompilerCompiler). A Gnu is a critter that looks like a Yak, which is a water buffalo.

Is BISON a backronym? Or is it just another play on YACC?

I'm bored, so it's time to be petty : RSA, OS/2, PS/2, IBM, PCMCIA and NSA are not acronyms. Discuss. -- ArnoldLayne

Arnold, "a word interpreted as an acronym," not "a reinterpreted acronym;" it would seem that words or abbreviations that were never intended as acronyms are fair game here. Note that "Ford" is not an acronym, yet it can be "treated" as though it were. -- GarryHamilton

According to MerriamWebster

a shortened form of a written word or phrase used in place of the whole <amt is an abbreviation for amount>
a word (as NATO, radar, or snafu) formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive parts or major parts of a compound term.

The point is that, technically, an abbreviation is not necessarily an acronym, although every acronym is necessarily an abbreviation. RSA, for example, is always pronounced as "'are ess ay", that is, it is spelled out, not pronounced as a single word. RSA is therefore an abbreviation, but not an acronym.

And yes, as he said, he is being petty.

One could argue, that OS/2 and especially PS/2 are not BackroNyms using this definition.

 OS/2 = "half an operating system"  ;->''
 IBM = the Itty Bitty Machine company

Is this the same thing as a RetroNym? It looks like, from the examples, that one is an acronym intended to look like a word and the other is an acronym intended to explain a word, but maybe they are synonyms.

A RetroNym is something else entirely, usually not an acronym -- see the RetroNym entry.

What about acronyms (or abbreviations, or whatever!) that were chosen with the short form first? I am thinking in particular of the Beginner's All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, aka BASIC, and the Radically Emphatic Students Interested in Science, Technology and Other Research Subjects, aka the RESISTORS. There are many others.

Those are AproNyms.

Backronym is a particularly clever PortmanteauWord.

EditText of this page (last edited November 12, 2014) or FindPage with title or text search