A backronym is a reverse acronym. To create one, you take a word that isn’t an acronym and create a fictitious expansion for it.

IBM’s first database was not relational. Its second database, DB2, was a sequel to its first database, and so they wanted to call its query language SEQUEL[1] but they were unable to copyright the name. So they dropped the vowels and shortened it to SQL. Later someone came up with the backronym “Structured Query Language.”

A backronym is an acronym formed from an already existing word by expanding its letters into the words of a phrase. Backronyms may be invented with either serious or humorous intent.

AMBER actually stands for “America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response,” but it is a backronym for Amber Hagerman[2], who was the missing and murdered child whose death was instrumental in founding the program.

The term “backronym” may also refer to an acronym perpetuated falsely in popular culture or folklore. For example, it is popularly believed that the distress signal “SOS” is an acronym for “Save Our Ship” or “Save Our Souls.” In truth, the letters “SOS” were chosen solely because they are unmistakable when transmitted in Morse Code.

Twain[3] is the unofficial backronym for Technology Without An Interesting Name has stuck for software interfaces with scanners and cameras. Adidas, named after company founder Adolf “Adi” Dassler but falsely believed to be an acronym for “All Day I Dream About Sport”.

The word Wiki[4] is said to stand for “What I Know Is”, but in fact, derived from the Hawaiian phrase wiki-wiki meaning “fast”. The distress call “Pan-Pan”[5] is commonly stated to mean “Possible Assistance Needed”, whereas in fact it is derived from the French word panne, meaning breakdown.

Some people, like me, inherit a genetic oddity that causes them to sneeze when confronted by bright light. I’m afraid this syndrome has been given the overly cute acronym of ACHOO (autosomol dominant compelling helio-ophthalmic outburst).

Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses. Vintage Books, 1990

Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle have a society called Sherlock Holmes: Enthusiastic Readers League of Criminal Knowledge, SHERLOCK, a creative, if strained, backronym. In 1982, admirers of comedian Jackie Gleason organized the Royal Association for the Longevity and Preservation of the Honeymooners, or RALPH, which happens to be the first name of Gleason’s TV character, Ralph Cramden.”

Backronym for Doyle’s Space

I came up with my own backronym for my blog, Doyle’s Space. Space stands for Selectively Prepared Accumulation of Calculated Evidence.

Perl[6] is a word that has backronyms. Various expansions attributed to the letters in Perl were invented after the programming language was named. Practical Extraction and Report Language is a popular backronym for Perl. A less gracious backronym is Pathologically Eclectic Rubbish Lister.

  1. SQL was initially developed at IBM by Donald D. Chamberlin and Raymond F. Boyce after learning about the relational model from Edgar F. Codd in the early 1970s. This version, initially called SEQUEL (Structured English Query Language), was designed to manipulate and retrieve data stored in IBM’s original quasi-relational database management system, System R, which a group at IBM San Jose Research Laboratory had developed during the 1970s. [Back]
  2. Amber Rene Hagerman (November 25, 1986 – January 15, 1996) was a nine-year-old girl abducted while riding her bike in Arlington, Texas. Her younger brother, Ricky, had gone home without her because Amber had wanted to stay in the parking lot for a while. When he returned with his grandfather, they only found her bicycle. A neighbor who had witnessed the abduction called 911. On hearing the news, Hagerman’s father, Richard, called Marc Klaas, whose daughter, Polly, had been kidnapped and murdered in Petaluma, California, in 1993. Amber’s mother, Donna Whitson (now Donna Williams), called the news media and the FBI. They and their neighbors began searching for Amber. Four days after her abduction, near midnight, a man walking his dog discovered Amber’s naked body in a creek behind an apartment complex with severe laceration wounds to her neck. The site of the discovery was less than five miles from where she was abducted. Her murder remains unsolved as of 2023, which is currently 27 years. [Back]
  3. TWAIN and TWAIN Direct are application programming interfaces (APIs) and communication protocols that regulate communication between software and digital imaging devices, such as image scanners and digital cameras. TWAIN is supported on Microsoft Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X.
    The three key elements of TWAIN are:
    -Application software. For example, graphics software, a fax application, or a word processor.
    -Source manager software. The source manager software is a software library provided by the TWAIN Working Group.
    -Device drivers (referred to as “Source software” in the specification document)
    Both the application and the device driver must support TWAIN for the interface to be successfully used. The first release was in 1992, and it was last updated in 2021. It was designed with the help of a number of companies from the computer industry, to try to establish a unified standard connection interface between computers and imaging devices. [Back]
  4. A wiki is an online hypertext publication collaboratively edited and managed by its own audience, using a web browser. A typical wiki contains multiple pages for the subjects or scope of the project and could be either open to the public or limited to use within an organization for maintaining its internal knowledge base. [Back]
  5. The radiotelephony message PAN-PAN is the international standard urgency signal that someone aboard a boat, ship, aircraft, or other vehicle uses to declare that they have a situation that is urgent, but for the time being, does not pose an immediate danger to anyone’s life or to the vessel itself. This is referred to as a state of “urgency”. This is distinct from a mayday call (distress signal), which means that there is imminent danger to life or to the continued viability of the vessel itself. Radioing “pan-pan” informs potential rescuers (including emergency services and other craft in the area) that an urgent problem exists, whereas “mayday” calls on them to drop all other activities and immediately begin a rescue. The exact representation of PAN in Morse code is the urgency signal XXX, which was first defined by the International Radiotelegraph Convention of 1927. [Back]
  6. Perl is a family of two high-level, general-purpose, interpreted, dynamic programming languages. “Perl” refers to Perl 5, but from 2000 to 2019 it also referred to its redesigned “sister language”, Perl 6, before the latter’s name was officially changed to Raku in October 2019. Perl was developed by Larry Wall in 1987 as a general-purpose Unix scripting language to make report processing easier. Since then, it has undergone many changes and revisions. Raku, which began as a redesign of Perl 5 in 2000, eventually evolved into a separate language. The Perl languages borrow features from other programming languages including C, sh, AWK, and sed; They provide text processing facilities without the arbitrary data-length limits of many contemporary Unix command line tools. Perl 5 gained widespread popularity in the late 1990s as a CGI scripting language, in part due to its powerful regular expression and string parsing abilities. In addition to CGI, Perl 5 is used for system administration, network programming, finance, bioinformatics, and other applications, such as for GUIs. It has been nicknamed “the Swiss Army chainsaw of scripting languages” because of its flexibility and power, and also what some consider ugliness due to its utilization of more special characters than many other languages. In 1998, it was also referred to as the “duct tape that holds the Internet together,” in reference to both its ubiquitous use as a glue language and its perceived inelegance. Perl is a highly expressive programming language: source code for a given algorithm can be short and highly compressible. [Back]

Further Reading


John D. Cook Consulting
Computer Hope
World Wide Words
The Backronym Generator

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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