“Wub,” said my friends.
What did she mean, I demanded to know.
Wub, she insisted. As in W U B.
I still didn’t know what it meant but at least I knew I was dealing with an acronym.
For those of you not lucky enough to own a paperback titled ‘Port Out Starboard Home’ by Michael Quinion, I can tell you all he says about acronyms.
Posh, for instance, supposedly came from the first letters of the words in the phrase ‘Port Out Starboard Home’ , referring to the position of the cabins upper class folk booked when travelling between England to the colonies.
Posh came to mean upper class fancy, but was nothing to do with the P and O shipping line and more probably some sort of London slang for money.
Mr Quinion said that we are now surrounded by an absolute alphabet soup of acronyms these days, such as FIFT (Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer), NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisations), SARS (Sevre Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and my favourite — POTUS (President of the United States).
We get so used to using the acronym in some cases that we forget where the word actually comes from, for instance radar is from Radio Detection and Ranging, Laser comes from Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, and scuba from Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.
Mr Quinion says the fashion for creating acronyms was actually a military one dating from the time of the First World War, which is extremely recent compared to the origins of most words.
An example of an early military acronym is awol, Absent With Out Leave, although it wasn’t consistently used as a word until the Second World War.
The very word acronym to describe these words made of initials wasn’t even coined until 1943.
Although Mr Quinion doesn’t say so, they have become a blight on the modern wordscape and are particularly beloved of management and all sorts of organisations from banks and government departments to universities.
Say you make a tentative inquiry about where to pay some charge or want to know some sort of information.
The acronymist will say something like: You need a Pfls 2B for that, get it filled and take it to Temd Poc in MSxvb and after its approved, go to YAB.
Sometimes you get the information but you can’t understand it anyway because you don’t understand what the Rept UDnOg is or where the SLURB is located, let alone what it does.