Backronym

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A backronym or bacronym is a phrase constructed purposely such that an acronym can be formed to a specific word. Backronyms may be invented with serious or humorous intent, or may be a type of false or folk etymology.


The word is a blend of backward and acronym, and has been defined as a "reverse acronym".[1] Its earliest known citation in print is as "bacronym" in the November 1983 edition of the Washington Post monthly neologism contest. The newspaper quoted winning reader "Meredith G. Williams of Potomac" defining it as the "same as an acronym, except that the words were chosen to fit the letters."[1]

Contents

Differences from acronyms

An acronym is a word derived from the initial letters of a phrase:[2] For example, the word radar comes from "Radio Detection and Ranging."[3]

By contrast, a backronym is constructed by taking an existing word already in common usage, and creating a new phrase using the letters in the word as the initial letters of the words in the phrase. For example, the United States Department of Justice assigns to their Amber Alert program the meaning "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response,"[4] although the term originally referred to Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old abducted and murdered in Texas in 1996.

Examples

Backronyms can be constructed for educational purposes, for example to form mnemonics. An example of such a mnemonic is the Apgar score, used to assess the health of newborn children. The rating system was devised by and named after Virginia Apgar, but ten years after the initial publication, the backronym APGAR was coined in the US as a mnemonic learning aid: Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration.[5]

Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs use backronyms as teaching tools, similar to slogans such as "one day at a time," or "Let go, let God," but often with an ironic edge. For example, a slip may be expanded as "Sobriety Losing Its Priority,"[6] and denial as "Don't Even Notice I Am Lying."[7]

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