What a Backronym Is

Today I found out what a backronym is (also commonly spelled bacronym).

In short, a backronym is when you treat a word that is not an acronym as if it was an acronym, constructing a phrase out of the word.  For example: Delta – Doesn’t Ever Leave The Airport

Backronyms are often used for humorous effect as in the example above, but they are also quite commonly used unintentionally. For instance, many people believe the word “wiki” is an acronym for “What I Know Is”, but in fact it is not.  The word ‘wiki’ is derived from the Hawaiian phrase “wiki wiki”, meaning ‘fast’. Thus used as: wiki – What I Know Is,  makes this an example of a backronym.

The earliest known reference to the word backronym in print was in a November 1983 edition of the Washington Post monthly neologism contest.  Here Meredeth G. Williams of Potomac was quoted by journalist Bob Levey as describing a backronym as “the same as an acronym, except that the words were chosen to fit the letters.”

Since then, the word has slowly spread and can be found in numerous texts since around the early 1990s.

Here are some other common backronyms:

  • Microsoft’s “Bing”: Because It’s Not Google
  • Microsoft’s “Bing” recursively done: Bing is not Google
  • Adidas: All Day I Dream About Sports.  In other languages: (spanish) “Asociacion De Idiotas Dispuenstos a Superarse”, “Association of Idiots willing to Outdo Themselves”; (dutch) “Alle Domme Idioten Doen Aan Sport”, “All dumb idiots engage in sports” (side note, are there non-dumb idiots?)
  • Golf: Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden
  • Fine: Freaked-out, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional
  • Navy: Never Again Volunteer Yourself
  • From Alcoholics Anonymous:
    • God: Good Orderly Direction
    • Halt: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired
    • Slip: Sobriety Losing Its Priority
    • Denial: Don’t Even Notice I am Lying

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