A backronym, or bacronym, is an
An acronym is a word or name formed from the initial components of a longer name or phrase, usually using individual initial letters, as in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) or European Union, EU (European Union), but sometimes using sy ...
formed from a word that existed prior to the invention of the backronym. Unlike a typical acronym, in which a new word is constructed from a phrase, the phrase corresponding to the backronym is selected to fit an already existing word. Backronyms may be invented with either serious or humorous intent, or they may be a type of
A false etymology (fake etymology, popular etymology, etymythology, pseudo-etymology, or par(a)etymology), sometimes called folk etymology – although the latter term is also folk etymology, a technical term in linguistics – is a popularly held ...
or folk etymology
. The word is a blend
of ''back'' and ''acronym''.
An acronym is a word derived from the initial letters of the words of a phrase,
such as the word ''
Radar is a detection system that uses radio waves to determine the range, angle, or velocity of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft
An aircraft is a vehicle that is able to flight, fly by gaining support from the Atmosphere of Ear ...
'', constructed from "radio detection and ranging".
By contrast, a backronym is "an acronym deliberately formed from a phrase whose initial letters spell out a particular word or words, either to create a memorable name or as a fanciful explanation of a word's origin."
For example, the
United States Department of Justice
The United States Department of Justice (DOJ), also known as the Justice Department, is a United States federal executive departments, federal executive department of the United States government responsible for the enforcement of the law and admi ...
program was named after Amber Hagerman
, a 9-year-old abducted and murdered in 1996; but officials later publicized the backronym "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response".
The earliest known citation of the word in print is as ''bacronym'' in the November 1983 edition of ''
The Washington Post
''The Washington Post'' (also known as the ''Post'' and, informally, ''WaPo'') is an American daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C. It is the most-widely circulated newspaper within the Washington metropolitan area, and has a large nat ...
A neologism (; from Greek νέο- ''néo-'', "new" and λόγος ''lógos'', "speech, utterance") is a relatively recent or isolated term, word, or phrase that may be in the process of entering common use, but that has not yet been fully accepte ...
contest. The newspaper quoted winning reader Meredith G. Williams of Potomac, Maryland
, defining it as the "same as an acronym, except that the words were chosen to fit the letters".
An example of a backronym as a
A mnemonic (, the first "m" is not pronounced) device, or memory device, is any learning technique that aids information retention or retrieval (remembering) in the human memory
Memory is the faculty of the brain by which data or informat ...
is the Apgar score
, used to assess the health of newborn babies. The rating system was devised by and named after
, 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.
An example of the title of a piece of legislation being a backronym is the CARES Act
of 2020, which stands for the
Coronaviruses are a group of related Orthornavirae, RNA viruses that cause diseases in mammals and birds. In humans and birds, they cause respiratory tract infections that can range from mild to lethal. Mild illnesses in humans include some case ...
Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
As false etymologies
Sometimes a backronym is reputed to have been used in the formation of the original word, and amounts to a false etymology or an urban legend. Acronyms were very rare in the English language prior to the 1930s, and most etymologies of common words or phrases that suggest origin from an acronym are false.
Examples include wikt:posh, ''posh'', an adjective describing stylish items or members of the upper class. A popular story derives the word as an acronym from "port out, starboard home", referring to nineteenth century first-class cabins on ocean liners, which were shaded from the sun on outbound voyages east (e.g. from Britain to British India, India) and homeward heading voyages west.
; published in the US as
The word's actual etymology is unknown, but more likely related to Romani language, Romani ''påš xåra'' ("half-penny") or to Urdu (borrowed from Persian) ''safed-pōśh'' ("white robes"), a term for wealthy people.
Similarly, the distress signal SOS is often believed to be an abbreviation for "Save Our Ship" or "Save Our Souls" but was chosen because it has a simple and unmistakable Morse code representation three dots, three dashes, three dots, sent without any pauses between characters.
More recent examples include the brand name ''Adidas'', named after company founder Adolf Dassler, Adolf "Adi" Dassler but falsely believed to be an acronym for "All Day I Dream About Sport";
[All Day I Dream About Sport: The Story of the Adidas Brand, ]
''Wiki'', said to stand for "What I Know Is",
but in fact derived from the Hawaiian language, Hawaiian phrase ''wiki-wiki'' meaning "fast";
or Yahoo!, sometimes claimed to mean "Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle", but in fact chosen because Yahoo's founders liked the word's meaning of "rude, unsophisticated, uncouth" (taken from Jonathan Swift's book ''Gulliver's Travels'').
Use in Humour
In "Bender Should Not Be Allowed on TV," the 6th episode of Season 4 of the science fiction animated sitcom ''Futurama'', several characters join an advocacy group known as "Fathers Against Rude Television" or FART – hence becoming an instance of rude television themselves.
* Recursive acronym
* Satiric misspelling
Types of words