Special Report

Acronyms That Don’t Always Mean What You Think They Do

Languages are full of acronyms – words made up of the initials and/or initial components of longer words. They’ve been around at least since Roman times and are found in many languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Hebrew, Russian, and Swahili. (These are the most commonly spoken foreign languages in each state.)

Though they’re hardly exclusive to English, Americans use a lot of them. We punch in our PIN at the ATM; go AWOL from a meeting but get back ASAP; hope our favorite performer gets the EGOT and that NATO stands strong – and by the way, TGIF. And of course texting would be a much more arduous task without LMK, LOL, IMHO, LMFAO, and such. (The difference between acronyms and abbreviations can be debated, but in general, abbreviations are strings of letters separated with real or implied periods.)

Some acronyms have lost their all-cap status and become such common words that we forget their acronymic origins. “Scuba” was originally an acronym for “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus;” “radar” derives from “radio detection and ranging;” “laser” stands for “light amplification by the stimulated emission of radiation.” 

Acronyms are shortcuts, though, and shortcuts can sometimes be tricky. It turns out that the same acronyms can apply to vastly different things. The CIA, of course, is the Central Intelligence Agency, but if you’re in the food world, your CIA is the Culinary Institute of America. Doctors may belong to the AMA (the American Medical Association), but singers might want to win an AMA, or American Music Award. (Speaking of the CIA and AMA, here’s a list of the most and least trusted institutions in America.)

Click here to see acronyms that don’t always mean what you think they do

24/7 Tempo has collected 20 common acronyms (and abbreviations, if you insist), then searched them on Google to find secondary meanings beyond the ones that first come to mind. In many cases, in fact, there are a number of secondary meanings – but we’ve just chosen the most interesting or unexpected ones.

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