Backronyms - in English and other languages

I’m currently watching the TV series Criminal Minds and came across two deregatory terms for Italian immigrants in the US: wop and Dago. I looked up the etymology of those words and apparently “wop” comes from the Italian term “guappo” which is roughly pronounced “wah-po” in Southern Italian dialects. Other people would hear Italian immigrants referring to each other in this way and then turn it into the deregatory term “wop”. Later people thought that “wop” was an acronym of “without papers” implying that Italian immigrants arrived illegally in the US. But this was an invented acronym, a backronym (back + acronym): Wop - Wikipedia.

So, backronyms are acronyms that are invented for an already existing word. A famous example is the Amber Alert. It was named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old abducted and murdered in 1996 but afterwards the backronym “America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response” was invented: Amber alert - Wikipedia.

Do you know of other backronyms in English or in other languages?

4 Likes

I’ve never heard of a backronym!! I’ll have to look some up!

It’s interesting to go through the Wikipedia articles about backronyms in different languages, as they show plenty of different examples. Two examples that I find especially interesting are:

SOS: It’s interpreted as “Save our Souls” or “Save our Ship” but infact it has no meaning. The letters just look very distinctive in Morse code.

The Apgar Score: it was named after it’s creator Virginia Apgar but received several backronyms as mnemonic.
English: Appearance (skin color), Pulse (heart rate), Grimace (reflex irritability), Activity (muscle tone), and Respiration.
Spanish: Apariencia, Pulso, Gesticulación, Actividad, Respiración;
Portuguese: Aparência, Pulso, Gesticulação, Atividade, Respiração;
French: Apparence, Pouls, Grimace, Activité, Respiration;
German: Atmung, Puls, Grundtonus, Aussehen, Reflexe;
Czech: Adaptace kůže, Pulz, Grimasy, Aktivita svalů, Respirace
(Apgar score - Wikipedia)