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Some of your favorite words may actually be acronyms

Some acronyms have become so common as words, that it’s tough to remember what they stood for in the first place.

We’re talking about words where each letter actually stands for its own word. Instead of saying each word individually, we mash the first letters together and say that instead.

Take scuba, for instance. We don’t call it “scuba” diving because some guy named Steve Scuba invented a cool way to stay under water for a long time.

“Scuba” actually stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.

Makes sense, but it’s easy to forget if you’re not well-versed in the ins and outs of scuba diving.

Here's another one.

Have you ever thought about why we call it a "zip" code?  "Zip" is actually an acronym for Zone Improvement Plan. However, a guy named Mr. Zip did have a role in the U.S. Postal Service's efforts to get Americans to start using zip codes in the 1960s.


One more.

Have you ever referred to a chaotic situation at work as a “snafu? That’s an acronym too, and it has roots in military slang. It stands for Situation Normal All Fouled Up.

Yes, we know there’s another “F” word that fits in there, but That’s What They Say is a family program.

While we’re on the topic of snafus, we’ve got some unfinished business to address.

Last week, we talked about ambiguous sentences and left you with one to solve on your own: The horse raced past the barn fell.

We’re told that sentence caused more than a few brain-related snafus this week, and we believe it. It’s a tough one.

The trick is to let “raced past the barn” become a description of the horse. So, the horse that was raced past the barn, as opposed to the horse that was raced past the house or the field, is the horse that fell.

Now that we’ve got that cleared up, here’s a fun list of more words that are actually acronyms.

How many did you already know? Do you know a good one that’s missing? Drop us a line at acurzan@umich.edu or rkruth@umich.edu and let us know!

Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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