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Best Post for Week of 4/26/2008

April 30, 2008

There are many TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) and ETLAs (Extended Three Letter Acronyms, for those TLAs that just won’t fit into 3 letters) out there, and some of them take on pronunciations of their own.  For example, you don’t say “en-ey-ess-ey”, you say “NASA”.

It seems like the earliest acronyms would always take on the letters of the original title.  For example, the title “Federal Bureau of Investigation” came first and was quickly shortened to “FBI”.  There is a very clear workflow here:

  1. Create title
  2. Shorten to acronym
  3. Bonus points if Step 2 results in something pronounceable

I’ve been suspicious as of late that the acronyms were coming first, and the people behind them were making up names to fit the letters.  For example, the “patriot” in “PATRIOT Act of 2001” is actually an acronym for “Provide Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”.  Then there’s the US SAFE WEB Act of 2005, which stands for – you guessed it (or maybe you didn’t) – “Undertaking Spam, Spyware, And Fraud Enforcement With Enforcers across Borders”.

This past week I came across one clinched the deal.  You know people are starting with the sound-bite-worthy acronym and making the title fit the letters when you see a weapon system called “MAHEM”, which stands for “Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition”:

http://www.darpa.mil/TTO/programs/mahem.htm

 

Full Disclosure: I originally found this on Slashdot, but the link doesn’t appear to be working any longer: http://tech.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/04/23/1714254&from=rss.

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