© 2014 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.
The world is full of shorthand names, and given the explosion in writing via a limited keyboard (such as those on most mobile phones) for text messages, email, and such, many more shortcuts to typing have been invented.
In this essay, we'll look at some abbreviations and acronyms in common use, but whose long-form is not necessarily so well known or for which there is something of note to mention. A few are included because of a personal interest. [The idea for this essay and most of the entries came to me while I was awake with jetlag during a 2014 visit to Salzburg, Austria, between 04:00 and 06:30 one morning.]
Some references you might find useful are Oxford English Dictionary, http://www.abbreviations.com/, http://dictionary.reference.com/abbreviations/, and http://www.acronymfinder.com/.
According to Wikipedia, an abbreviation "is a shortened form of a word or phrase". An abbreviation is never read like a word; it is spelled out letter by letter.
AD or A.D. – Taken from the Latin Anno Domini meaning, "In the Year of the Lord", and representing the year after the supposed birth of Jesus. The AD is written before the year, as is AD 1066. The politically correct equivalent is CE or C.E. (Common Era). See BC below.
A.M. or a.m. – from the Latin ante meridiem, meaning before midday: Of course, much of the world uses a 24-hour clock, thereby avoiding the silliness of having 12 pm be earlier than 1 pm! See P.M. below.
BC or B.C. – Before Christ: This seems odd, as English really didn't exist as such when the AD naming convention was invented in AD 525. Why not Latin like AD? The BC is written after the year, as is 345 BC. The politically correct equivalent is BCE or B.C.E. (Before the Common Era). See AD above.
BS or BSc – A Bachelor of Science degree, from the Latin Scientiæ Baccalaureus: Just to show that my time in university was not entirely wasted, there I learned that BS had something to do with "bullsh*t", MS meant "more of the same", and Ph.D. meant, "piled higher and deeper".
DIY – Do it Yourself: Mostly used in the context of home maintenance.
DNA – Deoxyribonucleic acid: Its buddy is RNA, Ribonucleic acid.
e.g. – from the Latin exempli gratia: Means "for example".
ETA – Estimated Time of Arrival: Commonly heard from the cockpit when flying.
GMT – Greenwich Mean Time: Named because the internationally accepted prime meridian runs through the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England. (Refer also to Coordinated Universal Time [UTC].) On one visit to said observatory, I watched as tourists stood with one foot either side of the meridian, inserted a £1-coin in a machine, and received an official "I straddled the Prime Meridian" certificate!
i.e. – from the Latin id est: Means "that is".
IRS – Internal Revenue Service: The US Federal tax-collection agency. In the UK, this used to be known as Inland Revenue, and I remember well in a sketch English comedian Benny Hill questioning why he should pay taxes to them when "he lived on the coast"!
LSD – lysergic acid diethylamide: A psychedelic drug commonly referred to as acid.
M&M – A brand of candy/sweets: Not to be confused with S&M.
m.o. – from the Latin modus operandi: Means "method of operation"; commonly used by police detectives when discussing a possible suspect's motives.
NB – from the Latin nota bene: Means "note well".
OK – okay: Although no one knows the origins of the use of this, click here for some interesting theories.
P.M. or p.m. – from the Latin post meridiem, meaning after midday: Of course, much of the world uses a 24-hour clock, thereby avoiding the silliness of having 12 am be earlier than 1 am! See A.M. above.
PS – from the Latin post scriptum: Means "writing that follows after the main body". If there is more than one thing to say, PSS, PPS, and PPPS can be used as well.
Q.E.D. – from the Latin quod erat demonstrandum: If you took a mathematics class in university, you may well have seen this written after a mathematical proof. Basically, it means, "As you can clearly see", when in reality it requires someone with several advanced degrees to figure out!
R&D – Research and Development: Not to be confused with B&D.
RSVP – from the French répondez s'il vous plaît, (reply, if you please): When seen on a written invitation along with a date, means "please respond by that date".
SOS – the international Morse code distress signal: The "continuous sequence of [easy to press] three dits, three dahs, and three dits" just happens to spell "SOS". Of course, someone just had to retrofit this abbreviation with matching words, with Save our Souls being one such attempt.
UK – United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The purveyors of fine convicts, especially those sent first to the American colony of Georgia and later to Australia!
US/USA – United Sates of America: As I wrote in the May 2014 essay, "What is Normal - Part 7: What's in a Name?" the US is known as VS to the Germans (Die Vereinigten Staaten) and the Dutch (Verenigde Staten), as EU to the French (Les États-Unis), and as EE.UU. to Spanish speakers (Los Estados Unidos).
USSR – Union of Soviet Socialist Republics: However, when written in the Cyrillic alphabet, it's CCCP (Сою́з Сове́тских Социалисти́ческих Респу́блик, that is, Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik), as you've no doubt seen in photos painted on Soviet military and space vehicles).
VIP – Very Important Person: For some people, it means, "they are legend in their own mind" rather than "in their own time".
According to Wikipedia, an acronym is "formed from the initial components in a phrase or a word. These components may be individual letters or parts of words." An acronym is read like a word; it is never spelled out letter by letter.
ANZAC – Australian and New Zealand Army Corps: Most noted for its WWI campaign at Gallipoli, Turkey. To this day, Australia's national day for remembering its war dead is Anzac Day, April 25th. (For a portrayal of that campaign see the movie Gallipoli, co-starring Mel Gibson.)
ASEAN – Association of Southeast Asian Nations: This political and economic group meets to discuss concerns for its region. Australia is an observing member.
BASIC – Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code: This high-level, computer-programming language was made popular by early mini- and personal computers. [It was my first programming language, on a DEC PDP-11 in 1974.]
COBOL – Common Business-Oriented Language: This high-level, computer-programming language has been used for many years for commercial business processing on mainframe computers. [It was my first production programming language when I started work as a programmer for a state highways authority in Australia.]
Fortran – Formula Translating System: This high-level, computer-programming language is suited to numerical and scientific programming. [I used it for programming mapping and graphics applications, as well as monitoring and controlling hydro and steam power generation.]
IKEA – According to Wikipedia, this well-known Swedish company's name was formed from the initials of its founder, Ingvar Kamprad, the name of the farm on which he was raised, Elmtaryd, and his hometown, Agunnaryd.
laser – light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.
NASA – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration: A US government agency that would have us believe it landed several spacecraft on the moon and Mars. Yeah, right! [See the movie Capricorn 1.]
NATO – North Atlantic Treaty Organization: Pretty much everyone knows about this political and military organization, but did you know that it once had a southern counterpart, SEATO?
This was the South East Asia Treaty Organization. Separately, there is ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty). By the way, the Soviet-backed, cold-war archrival of NATO was the Warsaw Pact.
Nazi – A National Socialist, from the German Nationalsozialismus.
OPEC – Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
POTUS – President of the United States of America. Not to be outdone, the First Lady of the United States is FLOTUS, and the Supreme Court of the United States is SCOTUS. [Now, although you might see some similarities, POTUS, FLOTUS, and SCOTUS are not to be confused with Donald Duck's nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie!]
Qantas – Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services. Australia's national airline is one of the oldest, continuing air services in the world, and one of only a few that has never suffered a fatal crash.
radar – radio detection and ranging.
scuba – self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.
snafu – Military slang for "situation normal: all f**ked up". Generally used to mean a bad situation.
sonar – sound navigation and ranging.
Stasi – Ministry for State Security, from the German Ministerium für Staatssicherheit: [These East German secret police had a compound on a hill overlooking the peaceful village of Tiefengruben (near Weimar in Thuringia), where my friends now live. When the East German government fell, the villagers went as a group to see what was in this off-limits area. To their surprise, they found a group of holiday cabins that were used by Stasi members and their families.]
ZIP (Code) – Zone Improvement Plan: According to Wikipedia, this US postal code, "was chosen to suggest that the mail travels more efficiently, and therefore more quickly (zipping along), when senders use the code in the postal address".
Written Abbreviations, Spoken Words
Some words are typically written only as abbreviations yet spoken as the full words. Here are some common ones:
etc. – from the Latin et
cetera: Means "and so forth". This was a favorite word of the King of Siam in the musical and movie The King and I. The German equivalent is usw. (und so weiter); it's a favorite of mine when I enumerate a list of things and I have no idea whatsoever what comes after the first two!
Mr. – mister, from master: The plural, Misters, is sometimes written as Messrs., from French.
Mrs. – missus, from mistress: The plural, Mesdames, from French.
I've always found the French connection interesting, especially as the French words were used regularly in photo captions in my hometown and regional newspapers in rural Australia in the 1970s.
Of course there are many other sets of abbreviations and acronyms, ranks and titles, weights and measures, and month names, just to name a few.
Now you've waited patiently to get to this really exciting bit of information, the longest known acronym, ADCOMSUBORDCOMPHIBSPAC. This United States Navy term stands for Administrative Command, Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet Subordinate Command, but you'll have to figure out for yourself just how the letters were chosen. It certainly isn't obvious to me.