have thought that little Bikwil would have helped persuade
anyone to attend The Language of the Media (Style Council 97)?
But there, at the State Library last November, yours truly ran into
another Bikwilian word buff. For us, a stimulating weekend.
promised, the ABC and SBS were well represented among the speakers, who
managed to sneak a few four-letter words into the linguistic
proceedings, and the occasional Spooneristic dirty joke. Perhaps a
summary of papers (with or without jokes) will eventually find its way
pages. Certainly something on Spoonerisms!
of the latter, one suggestion made by a frustrated reader is that the name
is itself a Spoonerism (Wik Bill?). Not so, but I understand your
frustration, because to date a big fat zilch has been offered by way of
excathedral explanation as to the real meaning of the name. Other
gropings include these: it’s something in simplified spelling
(bi-quill? bike will?), it’s an acronym, it’s a bird, no, it’s a
plane . . .
the editor’s permission, watch this space.
my main point today is acronyms. I note firstly that the word has of
late taken on an additional meaning. (Not that the word is old in any
case; it originated only in the 1940s, in America.)
start with the official meaning. In the Oxford English Dictionary “acronym”
is defined as “a word formed out of the initial letters of other words”.
Its derivation is from the Greek words acro (= “topmost”) + onoma
(= “name”), by analogy with “homonym”, “synonym”, etc.
my wide-eared innocence I’d always thought that the resulting word had
to be sayable, like “radar” or “Unesco”. After all, surely all
words must be able to be pronounced, don’t they? How could I have been
words don’t have to be pronounceable these days, it would appear, at
least when it comes to the unspeakableness of some acronyms. The Cambridge
Australian English Style Guide informs us that there is now a
looser meaning, whereby abbreviations like “GNP”, “ABC” and “IBM”
are also being called acronyms, though they should strictly be described
using the word “initialism”. It also draws attention to the
interesting case of “UFO”,
. . which is pronounced as a two-syllabled acronym by some, and a
three-syllabled initialism by others.
of course, can be pronounced one way only.
which brings me to my second point about acronyms.
self-seeking effort to make their abbreviations sayable, many
organisations, especially political pressure lobbies, have only
succeeded in devising rather synthetic and sometimes meaningless or
irrelevant letter combinations.
few examples of what I mean to be going on with:
ASH (Action on Smoking
ASSERT (Australian Society of Sex
Educators, Researchers and Therapists)
CRAG (Cyclists’ Rights Action
CRASH (Citizens Revolting Against
DOGS (Defence Of Government
HORACE (Human Organisation Resource
Administrative Control Environment)
POOO (People Opposed to Ocean
SAPSAN (Special Assistance Program
for South Africans and Namibians).
forced, wouldn’t you agree?
other hand (by way of the obligatory Bikwilian aside), the seventies and
eighties did generate some imaginative and not so unreasonable attempts
at sayable acronyms. Who will ever forget these precious gems?
NIMBY (Not In My
WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant)
WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get)
YUPPIE (Young Urban Professional + p + ie)
all-time favourite from that period has got to be LOMBARD (Lots Of
Money, But A Real Dork).
there’s only one thing for it. As usual, Bikwil must take the
linguistic lead. Not only will we risk the label of “pedantic” and
call an initialism an initialism in future, we will redefine “acronym”
into the bargain.
is our own self-referential definition (all rights reserved), henceforth
to be taught worldwide as the only true and useful meaning of “acronym”:
Contrived Row Of Nonsense-Yielding Mnemonics.