5 (more) words you didn’t know were acronyms
In 2013 we offered you a list of acronyms which you might not have known were acronyms, from scuba to care package. We even called Robert Pattinson ‘R-Patz’ along the way, for which we’re still feeling a little bit ashamed. To atone, we’ve delved back into the dictionary, and come up with another five acronyms which might surprise you…
You might have anticipated that sim (often heard in sim card, and also spelled SIM or Sim) was an acronym, but perhaps you didn’t know quite what it was. The letters stand for subscriber identity module, or subscriber identification module: in other words, a microprocessor in a mobile phone holding details of the user’s network registration etc. So now you know.
You’ve probably heard of gulag (also spelled Gulag and GULAG) – a term used both for the department of Soviet secret police responsible for labour camps from the 1930s until the 1950s, and for those camps themselves. What you might not realize, unless you’re a fluent Russian speaker, is that gulag is an acronym of Glavnoe upravlenie ispravitel’no-trudovȳkh lagereĭ – which translates as ‘Chief Administration for Corrective Labour Camps’.
Let’s turn to something more cheerful, shall we? The etymology of puffin when referring to the bird (auks of the genus Fratercula, if you will) is uncertain, although it certainly isn’t an acronym. Where the acronym comes into play is with the British puffin crossing – a pedestrian crossing with traffic lights which use sensors to detect whether or not pedestrians are waiting. The acronym in question is pedestrian user friendly intelligent (crossing) – respelled after the bird’s name for punning potential…
…and by analogy with the earlier pelican crossing, also British. This variety of pedestrian crossing has traffic lights operated by pedestrians, and is a respelling of the acronym pedestrian light controlled (crossing). Other crossings represent a veritable menagerie of animals – the zebra crossing because it is striped black and white and the Pegasus crossing because horse riders can cross there (with reference to the mythical winged horse). The suggestion that the toucan crossing (which a cyclist may use without dismounting) is a pun on ‘two can cross’, sadly, seems likely to be a later rationalization.
We’ll finish with a borderline case. Alphabet isn’t strictly an acronym, but it is close to an initialism, where the word is pronounced as separate letters, rather than as one word – such as OED for Oxford English Dictionary. In this instance, the initialism comes via Hellenistic Greek ἀλϕάβητος, from the first two letters of the ancient Greek alphabet ἄλϕα (alpha) and βῆτα (beta). That is to say, the word alphabet is formed in much the same way that we might refer to the English alphabet as the ABC.