You already know all about abbreviations and acronyms, but have you heard about backronyms?

A backronym is almost the same as an acronym, except the opposite.  An acronym is made to abbreviate a term or phrase, typically by using the first letter of each word.  For example, USA is an acronym for the United States of America.  Almost all major TV networks are acronyms: NBC, CBS, BBS, PBS, and so on (the B typically stands for “broadcasting”).

A backronym, however, is created when people take a word and make each letter stand for something, similar to those acrostic poems you might have made as a child, thereby making an acronym where there wasn’t one to begin with.  The Morse Code sign SOS is a common false backronym: people say it stands for “save our ship” or “save our souls” when really it was created because of the simplicity of the letters.

Here are some examples of real backronyms:

AMBER alert: We all know that this alert is used when a child goes missing, but what does it stand for? Originally, nothing. The alert was named after a missing child named Amber.  Now it is said to mean “America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.”

APGAR score: This is one you’ve probably only heard if you’re in the medical field.  Named after Dr. Apgar, this is a way nurses and doctors test the health of a newborn: “Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration.”

FAST: If you’ve taken any first responder classes, you know that the best way to spot (and assist) a stroke victim is to look at “Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties, and Time (to call emergency services).”

USA PATRIOT Act: I think we can all agree that the US government did not come up with a law that perfectly shrunk into an acronym that upholds our American pride and loyalty (patriotism).  It’s safe to say that the name of the law was probably created first, and the meaning assigned later: “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.”

BING: Although unfounded, many suggest that the popular search engine should stand for “Because It’s Not Google.”

GOLF: Another humorous one that is hard to confirm is the rumor that this popular sports game was originally quite misogynistic, standing for “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden.”

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