Welcome to the first, and most likely last installment of According to Hofmann’s World of English (AHTWOE). This week’s subject is acronyms.
Let’s begin by breaking down the word “acronym” with “acro”, meaning “height” or “tip”. The acronym for ACRO, by the way, is the American College of Radiation Oncology.
The second part, “nym”, means “name”, and the acronym of NYM is New York Mets because NYM is shorter to write than just writing “Mets”, I guess.
So, “acronym” pretty much means “height of a word” while its definition is an abbreviation formed from initial letters of other words. The height must be the fact that we use capital letters for our acronyms because they then look taller and wider, SEE WHAT I MEAN?
Because I don’t trust my own mind to come up with answers anymore as it normally ends with a car being set on fire, I decided to look up basic rules when coming up with acronyms.
First, acronyms need to be at least two letters because using one letter makes you sound dumb.
Just imagine two people talking about a job.
“I just got a job working for A.”
“That’s short for Amazon.”
Now, if you’re using two letters for your acronym, more than likely you won’t pronounce it as a word, even if they actually do spell a word.
For example, back to the job-announcing scenario, say you get a job at a place called Manufacturing Engineering and if their acronym is ME, you better say your work for “M-E”, not “me” or you’re going to confuse a lot of people, especially at the unemployment office.
“ME fired me yesterday, and I didn’t do anything to ME. I used to love ME, but now I can’t stand ME, even though I’d like to get back into ME...why are you calling security?”
Acronyms between three and four letters can either go with naming each letter or saying the word it creates, but acronyms five letters or over must make a word...at any cost.
For example, I’m sure when they came up with the name for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, they probably didn’t think it would be known as NASA as they probably thought it would be NAASA, but decided to not have the “A” represented because people pronouncing it would sound like a bunch of hillbillies calling in their pigs from the pasture.
“Naaaaaaasaw, yep, yep, giddy up!,” a voice would bellow from the farmhouse. “Time for yer slop dinner!”
For my job, I have to write about organizations, programs and initiatives that use acronyms all the time, and I realized the “acro” in “acronym” has nothing to do with height Instead, “acro” most likely means twisting and contorting like an acrobat to make an acronym work for them in creating a, somewhat, word.
Here are some examples of actual acronyms I found online and how I think they either came about or need some fixing:
First, we have the Advanced Weather Information Processing System (AWIPS). I imagine meteorologists had something to do with that, but then they’d be stuck with either MAWIPS, and nobody wants to pronounce that without sounding like a country bumpkin. The other alternative was AWIMPS, but weather science people have enough of a hard time looking tough without WIMPS in any name.
Second, we have NUBE, the National Union of Bank Employees. I’m guessing there was some disappointment following that acronym as nube is slang for someone who’s inexperienced with something. However, a simple switch-a-roo to be the Bank Employees National Union (BENU) would be a sci-fi handle that those geeks at AWIPS would adopt.
Next we have BREW, which stands for Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless. You know they originally had it as BREFW, but the intern probably interrupted the meeting by saying, “Wait a sec, brah! If you drop the F, you get BREW, dude! Whaaaaass uuuuup?!” Really, who can argue with that?
Finally, there’s All Intellectuals Rarely Put On Dumb Stuff (AIRPODS). Now, a rule in acronyms is to have the acronym/word properly represent the words that make it up. I’d love to be there when that acronym was uttered for the first time, so I could have retorted with That’s the One Exception (TOE).
I realize that the word “toe” has nothing to do with pointing out exceptions to rules, so that’s why, after yelling “TOE” I would have to kick the shin of the person to whom I’m yelling.
Trust me. This week’s column isn’t pronounced “athwoe” for nothing.
According to Hofmann is written by staff reporter Mark Hofmann of Rostraver Township. His books, “Good Mourning! A Guide to Biting the Big One...and Dying, Too” and “Stupid Brain,” are available on Amazon.com. He co-hosts the “Locally Yours” radio show on WMBS 590 AM every Friday.