Words & Stuff

ii: TLAs, PDQ!

(1 March 1998)

Recall from an earlier column that an initialism is an acronym if it forms a pronounceable word. It's not always obvious, though, what abbreviations are pronounceable. Take "IITYWYBAD?", for instance, a term displayed on a sign in a diner in The Grapes of Wrath. You certainly wouldn't want to have to say each letter, but how do you pronounce it? I'm told it's pronounced /,It i 'waI b&d/, but I'm not entirely sure.

As for its meaning, an example of usage is probably best:

Tara: What does "IITYWYBAD?" mean?
Uriah: If I tell you, will you buy a drink?

An intentionally misleading answer, in that it doesn't appear to be an answer. Reminds me a little of the old "Who's on first?" routine, and the game of questions played by the title characters in Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

Speaking of enigmatic characters, the protagonist of The Tattooed Potato, and Other Clues spends some time puzzling over the identity of the mysterious Roy G. Biv -- who of course turns out to be a mnemonic for the colors of the visible spectrum (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet). I've also seen that mnemonic given as VIBGYOR, which seems to me far less memorable.

Speaking of acronymic names (and how about them segues?): in Godel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hofstadter discusses recursive acronyms; among others, he includes an infinite progression of djinns, each more powerful than the one below it, collectively referred to as GOD, an acronym for God Over Djinn. A CTY alum named Bram (presumably a Hofstadter fan) used to claim that his name stood for BRAM Recursive Acronym Man. I always wanted to develop a recursive acronym with the acronym part at the end, but the closest I've come up with is the homophonic phrase "Why, O YOU?"

Speaking of TLAs (Three-Letter Acronyms), I'm told that the US military requires (or at least used to require) that soldiers have a middle initial. If they didn't, they were assigned a set of middle initials: N. M. I., for No Middle Initial. (Jim Moskowitz once assigned himself the middle initials T. M. I., for Three Middle Initials.) (And isn't "middle initial" an oxymoron?)

And finally, Joe Marriott writes to ask for help filling out the following table:

AAMABAAARPASPCA
BBOBBBBMOC
CCDCIACCCPCOMEX
DDTDARDTMF
EERETAESPNEPROM
FFMFBIFDIC
GGEGNPGATT
HHOHMSHDTV
IIVIRSIEEE
JJBJFK
KKOKAOS
LLPLEDLAPDLMNOP
MMDMTAMTBF
NNGNBANRBQNAACP
OOKOEDOPEC
PPUPDQ
QQTQEDQBVII
RRVROMRTFMRADAR
SSJSROSPQRSONAR
TTBTBDTGIF
UUVUHFUSMC
VVAVHSVSOP
WWBWPAWWWF
XXLXYZXTRA
YYMCA
ZZPG

He notes that the WWWF was the predecessor to the WWF. I'm not sure what all of the above items mean, but I think most of them should be pretty obvious. Anyone want to fill in the blanks? (Preferably with common abbreviations, acronyms, or letter sequences.)

...But enough. As David "Duck" Coupe once wrote, "Too many GDAs! (God-Damned Acronyms.)"


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Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>