Trivia

Hard

The Opposite Of An Acronym Is A?

Antonym
Zinonym
Backronym
Synonym
A circular patch style illustration for the C.O.L.B.E.R.T.
NASA

Answer: Backronym

Most people are familiar with acronyms: an abbreviation of a long name into initials or phonetic sounds that represent the full phrase. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, for example, is most commonly just called the FBI. In the same vein, the Department of Justice is shortened to the DOJ, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is shortened to NATO, and long phrases like Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation gets reduced to a much more reasonable term like “laser”.

Sometimes, however, organizations need to retroactively turn an existing word into an acronym (as opposed to making an acronym out of an existing phrase). This phenomenon is known as a backronym (sometimes also spelled bacronym). The nationwide child abduction alert system in the United States, for example, is called the “Amber Alert” system after the child whose abduction inspired it, Amber Hagerman. The DOJ retroactively turned Amber’s name into the full operating name of America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.

On a lighter note, NASA did the same thing when comedian Stephen Colbert encouraged his fans to vote for the next International Space Station module to be named after him. When he won the vote, by a landslide, NASA opted to humor him by naming a new space treadmill the C.O.L.B.E.R.T. (Combined Operational Load-Bearing External Resistance Treadmill).

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