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5 words you didn’t know were acronyms

Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day to say a whole word. That’s why the good British public have taken abbreviations to their hearts so willingly. Many people talk about ‘quotes’ instead of ‘quotations’, ‘info’ rather than ‘information’, ‘R-Patz’ in place of ‘Robert Pattinson’. . . yes? Anyone?

And then there is the acronym, an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word. (By contrast, an initialism – like OED for Oxford English Dictionary – remains pronounced as separate letters.) The acronym creates one handy little word, saving the time needed to say them all individually, and giving you more time to do the important things in life like reading books and eating cake.

Occasionally an acronym disguises itself so successfully that we forget it is an acronym. Here are five examples of words that you might not have known hid other words within them. . .

quango

Often used derogatively, ‘quango’ refers to an administrative body connected to the government, but outside the civil service. Which, considering it sounds like it ought to be a tropical fruit drink, might come as a bit of a disappointment. Maybe they should just call a spade a spade – or, in this case, call a quango a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization.

scuba

The earliest record of ‘scuba’ in the OED is from 1952, where it appeared as SCUBA – a snappy way of referring to self-contained underwater breathing apparatus. The upper-case letters have more popularly become lower-case, as the word becomes more familiar with water-lovers around the world.

Pog

If you were a child in the 90s, chances are that you played with Pogs. It seems oddly quaint that we were content, in that 20th-century world, to flip little disks of cardboard about, often without any very definite understanding of the rules and no intention of adhering to them. But did you know that ‘Pog’ is an acronym? It derives from ‘passion fruit, orange, guava’, the trademark for a Hawaiian juice drink, the lids of which provided the first disks.

laser

We probably all know what a laser is – what would a James Bond film be without one? – but did you know that the word, currently first identified in 1960, is an acronym of ‘light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation’? You can see why they went with the acronym, can’t you? By the time James Bond had finished asking for one of them to be passed, all opportunities for cutting into the bank vault would be scuppered.

care package

Perhaps the most surprising acronym on the list, given the widespread use of the term for parcels sent to anyone from soldiers at war to students at university, the ‘care’ in care package originally stood for the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe, which sent out aid in the aftermath of World War Two.

And one that isn’t. . .

Then there’s the backronym. Somebody retrospectively creates an appropriate acronym for an existing word, and it can be so convincing that people mistakenly believe the word was originally an acronym. A good example is ‘posh’. You might have heard that posh is an acronym for ‘port out, starboard home’, in reference to the more comfortable accommodation on a ship sailing from England to India – but the evidence to support this suggestion has yet to be discovered.

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