The Language Perfectionist: Amusing April Acronyms

A few months ago, I wrote a serious column about acronyms. Now April Fools’ Day provides an appropriate occasion to explore the humorous possibilities of acronyms and initialisms.

You say you didn’t know that abbreviations can be funny? Sure you do! This is a phenomenon that everyone has encountered or practiced. We acronymically “redefine” familiar names in ways that are facetious, sarcastic, satirical, or ironic; for the sake of social commentary; or otherwise to make a point.

A few examples: The National Security Agency, or N.S.A., has long been dubbed “Never Say Anything” and “No Such Agency.” The U.S. Army is mocked by soldiers with the words “Uncle Sam Ain’t Released Me Yet.” Some drivers interpret a STOP sign to mean “Spin Tires On Pavement” or “Start Tromping On Pedal.”

But this game is perhaps most often played by dissatisfied consumers. They express their irritation and anger by repurposing the names of the culprits. Selected snarky specimens follow.

  • A classic example: Drivers of Fiat cars joke that the name really means “Fix It Again, Tony.” Similarly, Ford is said to stand for “Fix Or Repair Daily.”
  • Airlines are a common target. Delta: “Doesn’t Even Leave The Airport.” Alitalia: “Always Late In Takeoff; Always Late In Arriving.” Sabena: “Such A Bad Experience – Never Again!”
  • The Personal Computer Memory Card International Association, now officially defunct, was known as PCMCIA. But some people whose laptops incorporated the peripheral interface device named for the group insisted that it meant “People Can’t Memorize Computer Industry Abbreviations.”
  • IBM might be the grandfather of the genre. Among the hundreds of ways this venerable initialism has been recast: “Incredibly Boring Machine,” “I Bought Macintosh,” and probably the best-known example, “I‘ve Been Moved,” a reference to the company’s practice of frequently relocating its executives.

My friend Wayne Kline, formerly a staff writer for Jay Leno and now for David Letterman, came up with his own list of humorous acronyms. My favorite is for valet park: “Vehicle Abusers Leadfoot Engine, Trash Paint, And Return Keys.”

Now it’s your turn. Think of the bad experiences you’ve had with various organizations, products, and services. Can you devise creative acronyms for them? Give it a try. I think you’ll find that this interesting diversion will be far from the Same Old Song And Dance (SO SAD)!

April Fools’ postscript: A new book is well timed. The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics, by John Pollack, is about to be published. It discusses the many varieties of puns, the historical background, the psychological factors at work, and why punning has passionate enthusiasts and opponents. The book is both scholarly and entertaining – that’s an unusual and impressive achievement.

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]
  • Gralee Parr

    In 1989, near the end of the S&L crisis, Congress passed banking legislation originally titled the “Depository Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act.” However, at the last minute someone spotted the unfortunate acronym and substituted “Financial” for “Depository.” And that is how FIRREA came to reign over the land.