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English speakers use acronyms every day: NASA, AIDS, ZIP code, and NAFTA are examples of acronyms, or words made up of the first letters of a phrase.

Everyone knows about acronyms, but have you ever heard of a backronym? This is the result of taking an existing word and making up a phrase based on its letters. For the lexically frolicsome, bacronyming can be great sport. An example: Stupid Pointless Annoying Messages is someone’s made-up backronym of SPAM.

Backronymese seems to be popular among opinionated automobile enthusiasts. Most of them know what the backronym FORD is: Fix Or Repair Daily. For Jeep: Just Empty Every Pocket. Drips Oil, Drops Grease Everywhere becomes the backronym Dodge, while Fiat cynically stands for Fix It Again Tomorrow. Saturn is the backronym for Sorry About That Unusual Rattling Noise, and Mazda becomes Made At Zoo by Demented Apes.

In 1982, admirers of the comedian Jackie Gleason organized 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.

Our word backronym started showing up in print in the early 1980s, and is a blending of the syllables back and the Greek suffix nym, meaning “name.”

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