A new day, a new thing

My goal to learn something new every day

Day 21: Words that you may not have known were acronyms (or initialisms)

While searching around on the internet for something today, I came across this little nugget about the word Jeep. We all know that Jeep is the trademark name of a vehicle produced by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, but how did it get its name? Well, according to some sources, it got its name from the initialism G.P., which stood for ‘General Purpose’ vehicle. ‘General Purpose’ was the term used by US Army soldiers during WWII to describe the vehicle. This origin has, however, been contested, and it appears that no-one is perfectly clear on where the name actually came from. But, it got me thinking that there must be other words out there that we use every day without realising that they started out as acronyms/initialisms. Turns out there are quite a few. Below I present the new ones that I found today. I’ve restricted the list to the ones that I learned about today, so words like scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus), radar (RAdio Detection And Ranging) and laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation), are not featured because I already know about them.


Image courtesy of _raymarcos on Flickr

Image courtesy of _raymarcos on Flickr

Unlike the contested Jeep example, Humvee is the result of an attempt to pronounce the initialism HMMWV (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle).


The internet search company Yahoo! is an acronym for Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle. Although the founders of the company said that they also liked the name because it’s a slang term for an unsophisticated, rural Southerner (according to Wikipedia).


Image courtesy of  csmyts on Flickr

Image courtesy of csmyts on Flickr

The Taser was created by a NASA employee called Jack Cover in the 1960s and 1970s. Cover wanted to name the device after his childhood hero Tom Swift, and was inspired by the book Tom Swift and his Electric Rifle. Taser is an acronym for Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle.

Smart Car

You might already know that the Smart Car is made by Daimler AG, the company that makes the Mercedes-Benz, but did you know that the original idea for the car actually comes from the watch maker Swatch? The company that makes Swatch watches came up with the idea in the 1980s and partnered with Daimler to produce the car. The name is actually an acronym of Swatch Mercedes Art.


Image courtesy of Yahoo Inc on Flickr

Image courtesy of Yahoo Inc on Flickr

When I was in school, like most other people, I ‘learned’ that Adidas stood for All Day I Dream About Sports. But that’s just a myth. In fact the company name comes from its founder Adolf Dassler. Dassler’s nickname was Adi (Adi Dassler). Interestingly, Dassler’s brother, Rudolf Dassler set up a rival company known as Ruda, which later became Puma.

Canola Oil

Canola oil is one that really surprised me, as I’d never have guessed it was an acronym. There seems to be a few ideas about this one, with some sources saying that it comes from Can(ada)+o(il)+l(ow)+a(cid). It appears that that explanation might be a myth. What’s for sure is the Can does come from Canada, and ola just means oil. This according to the Canola Council in Canada.


Pogs and Tazos were a fun part of my childhood. The little round disks that you collected, then stacked up and threw ‘slammers’ at to try and flip them over. The name ‘pog’ actually comes from a fruit juice, named POG, which is made from passionfruit, orange and guava. Children used to use the bottle caps to essentially play the game that became so popular in the 1990s.

Care Package

If you’ve lived abroad for a while, you may have received a care package or two from your family back home, packed with goodies otherwise unavailable in your new country. Well, it turns out ‘care’ doesn’t mean care in the everyday sense that I had assumed. It is instead an acronym for Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, an international humanitarian agency that delivers emergency relief around the world. The organization, which was set up at the end of WWII, began sending CARE packages to people in Europe who were at risk of starvation.


While it’s not an English word, ‘Gestapo’ is well-known outside of Germany from where it originates. The Gestapo is actually just an abbreviation of Geheime Staatspolizei, which is German for “Secret State Police”.


Image courtesy of  Dick Thomas Johnson on Flickr

Image courtesy of Dick Thomas Johnson on Flickr

Out of all of the words that I found today, IMAX is probably the one that stands out the most as likely coming from an acronym. And an acronym it is. It stands for image maximum.


I never did watch the sitcom ALF, but it’s probably one of those shows so popular that even without seeing it, you’d have at least have heard of it, and be able to recognise the main alien character ALF. As it turns out, ALF is just an acronym for alien life form.

2 comments on “Day 21: Words that you may not have known were acronyms (or initialisms)

  1. livinglearning
    January 22, 2015

    Another interesting post! I knew about some of those (like the Adidas and Puma story) and recently corrected ‘Yahoo’ in my editing project when it used as an exclamation but I had forgotten what the meaning was – just knew no one actually says that with any seriousness. Thanks for doing all the reaearch.^^


    • David Harbinson
      January 22, 2015

      Thanks Anne. I’d originally not put the exclamation mark in, but went back and added it at the end just because… 🙂 All this learning is gonna pay off big time one day, some day, during some pub quiz… I’m sure!

      Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on January 21, 2015 by in Language and tagged , .


January 2015

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