Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What's in a word: "Backronym"

Backronym is one of those neat words that means exactly what it says: Taking an existing word and retrofitting words to make an acronym from it. (It also happens to be an example of one of my other favorite word/concepts, a portmanteau: two words blended to make a new one with a meaning that combines the two. Lewis Carroll gets the credit for using that word first in Alice in Wonderland.)

Two famous examples of backronyms that come to mind from childhood are Fiat standing for "Fix it again, Tony" or Ford meaning "Found on roadside, dead." The backronym for posh--"port outbound, starboard home"--is falsely believed to derive from the location of wealthy passengers' berths on trips between England and India. More likely, it was derived from slang for money.

Backronym is such a terrific word that I was surprised to see that it's a relatively young one. Wikipedia attributes it (spelled "bacronym") to a Washington Post language contest in 1983.

And if you really, really have too much time on your hands, take a spin on the random Backronym Generator.


  1. Interesting to see in Wikipedia that they're the source of a lot of urban myths (like POSH).

  2. Thanks! I can't resist tools like the Backronym Generator. What a fun way to waste time I don't have.

  3. In much the same way you like backronyms, I like onomatopoeia...bam! zing! pow!

  4. @Anon. It kinda makes sense, doesn't it? People can read into whatever they want...

    @Valerie, sorry :) But you can't say you weren't warned!

    @STW, cha-ching.