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North Hills

Some bacronyms are DUMB (Don't Use Meaningless Blurbs)

Dave McElhinny
| Friday, Dec. 7, 2018, 1:33 a.m.
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Most of us know about acronyms. It’s a way to take a long name and shorten it by using the initials to make a new word. For instance, NASA stands for National Aeronautics and Space Administration. ZIP code stands for Zone Improvement Plan. GEICO is for Government Employees Insurance Company. (The company originally served U.S. government employees before expanding.)

Some words work well as an acronym. Some do not. For instance, if you own an “Automobile Supply Shop,” or are part of a “Wildlife Tourism Federation,” then an acronym would be quite bad.

But do you know what’s worse than a poor acronym? A backronym!

If you’ve never heard of a backronym, it’s the combination of the words “backwards and acronym” and is what happens when a premeditated acronym is created first and then the actual name of the organization or product is created to match the word.

SOS is a well-known term that many believed was derived from the words Save our Ships. Others think it comes from Save our Souls. Both are incorrect. SOS got its origins because of Morse Code and the fact that “S” and “O” are easier to send than other letters. It was later that people gave SOS a meaning. That’s a backronym.

SAD is a word we all know, so when Seasonal Affective Disorder was coupled with it, that also made sense.

But soon the perils of this fun wordplay began to emerge.

Somebody apparently fell asleep at the wheel at the Sarasota County Area Transit. While the word SCAT means “to move fast or go away quickly,” it also has another connotation — animal feces. That’s unfortunate. It gives new meaning to getting to work early by taking a morning SCAT.

But that’s nothing compared to when government officials learned this technique.

The government loves backronyms, which is why dozens of organizations have gotten pretty wordy, such as: USA PATRIOT ACT — United and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.

Then elected leaders wanted to get into the act to further political agendas, such ERICPAC — Every Republican Is Crucial Political Action Committee, introduced by former U.S. Rep. “ERIC” Cantor. U.S. Rep. Diane Watson introduced the CHOMP — Consumers Have Options for Molar Protection — Act.

Well, you get the point.

I’m not a fan of backronyms. I dislike taking an existing word, then cramming other words together and hoping it explains that original word. In fact, it’s never accurate. It never truly describes the word.

For instance, MCELHINNY — My Colleagues Expect Linguistic Hijinx Incorporating Neanderthal-like Nonsensical Yammerings.

Well, it almost never makes sense!

Dave McElhinny is the North Hills bureau chief for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at dmcelhinny@tribweb.com.

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