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This is a place to explore our language. Do you want to learn more about how languages work? Read here. Do you have a question about what is "right" and "wrong" in English? Read here. Have you ever noticed something funny, strange, or confusing about the way people talk? Then this is the place for you. Here we can explore the do's, don'ts, and d'ohs of our language.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A classic bit of bad language.

My students will recognize this one, too.

Have you ever stopped to consider acronyms? Here is the definition, according to
American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
acronym [(ak-ruh-nim)]
A word formed by combining the beginning letters of a name or phrase, as in WASP for "white Anglo-Saxon Protestant", or by combining the initial syllables of a series of words, as in radar, which stands for "radio detecting and ranging."

Note that USA, NBC, NCAA, NAACP, and ATM are not acronyms, because they are not pronounced as words. (We say "en double eh see pee," not "nackup.")

And speaking of ATM's, sometimes abbreviations don't really take the way they are intended. Consider how many times you hear someone utter the abomination "ATM machine." I hope by now you are realizing that ATM of course stands for "automated teller machine." Equally repugnant is the commonly used "PIN number." PIN stands for "personal identification number."

So... "PIN number" really refers to a "personal identification number number."

Am I being picky here? No, I don't think so. Why have wonderful expressions like ATM (an abbreviation) or PIN (an acronym), and then not use them correctly? But I don't get steamed when I hear a friend (or even a stranger) use them incorrectly. What really steams me is when I see "PIN Number" on a machine or even worse, in a newspaper ad. My wonderful wife found a Regions Bank ad in our newspaper where we saw this sentence:

Union Planters Bank is now Regions Bank. Only our name has changed. You still get the same great service, same friendly faces, same account number, even the same PIN number.


A professional wrote this ad, and a professional allowed it to be printed in a newspaper. ARRG!

Well, that's all I can bear to say on this subject right now. Later we might talk about how an acronym finally evolves into a regular word. You don't believe it happens? Of course it does, when we forget the origin of the acronym. Now, scuba is a word. It started out as the acronym which stood for...

Does anyone know? Bonus points if you do! I'll start you off: "Self Contained..."



jilledwards said...

I know it! Or do you just want your students to answer...?

Ben Edwards said...

Do it, Jill!

jilledwards said...

self contained underwater breathing apparatus.

jilledwards said...

And speaking of acronyms evolving into mainstream words, did you know that 'golf' is an acronym? At least, I think it is. I learned this from our uncle Dale, who, quite possibly, could have been trying to fool me. (He's gotten me in the past with Nancy Ann Seeancy...) But this one I believe. Know what it sands for?

Peter L said...

Pickiness alert:

The plural of ATM should be ATMs, shouldn't it? ATM's looks like the possessive to me.

Another Spanish teacher/Truman grad (except that I went to NMSU).

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About The Author

My name is Ben Edwards. I live in Cape Girardeau, Missouri where I grew up. In 2002, I graduated Truman State University with a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics. I have a wife named Laura and a son named Michael. I am proud to be a Spanish teacher at Notre Dame Regional High School. When I am not working, I like to spend time with my family.