[ Issue 5 ]

Acronyms are a particular interest of Emily Bronto

Permit Bikwil to acquaint you with the fascination of acronyms


Though the word acronym is not old (it originated only in the 1940s), Harlish Goop wants us to know that of late it has taken on an additional connotation.  He also provides his own self-referential definition (all rights reserved), henceforth to be taught worldwide as the only true and useful meaning of acronym.

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A Word in Your Pink Shell-like — Harlish Goop


Who would 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.

As 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 into Bikwil’s pages. Certainly something on Spoonerisms!

Speaking of the latter, one suggestion made by a frustrated reader is that the name Bikwil 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 . . .

With the editor’s permission, watch this space.

Actually 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.)

Let’s 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.

Now, in 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 so misguided?

No, 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.

“Ufology”, of course, can be pronounced one way only.

All of which brings me to my second point about acronyms.

In a 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.

Here a few examples of what I mean to be going on with:

ASH (Action on Smoking and Health)
ASSERT (Australian Society of Sex Educators, Researchers and Therapists)
CRAG (Cyclists’ Rights Action Group)
CRASH (Citizens Revolting Against Sound Harassment)
DOGS (Defence Of Government Schools)
HORACE (Human Organisation Resource Administrative Control Environment)
LIFE (Lay Institute for Evangelism)
POOO (People Opposed to Ocean Outfalls)
SAPSAN (Special Assistance Program for South Africans and Namibians).  

Somewhat forced, wouldn’t you agree?

On the 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 Backyard)
WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant)
WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get)
YUPPIE (Young Urban Professional + p + ie)

My all-time favourite from that period has got to be LOMBARD (Lots Of Money, But A Real Dork).

Look, 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.

So here is our own self-referential definition (all rights reserved), henceforth to be taught worldwide as the only true and useful meaning of “acronym”:

Any Contrived Row Of Nonsense-Yielding Mnemonics.

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