Ridiculous Acronyms

            As the recipient of many dumb chain emails in my life, I’ve come across various “facts” that I naïvely believed to be true, many of them etymological histories of words. Although these probably sparked my present-day interest in etymology, I sometimes wince when I hear people referencing ridiculous-sounding and blatantly false etymologies. The worst offenders are always false acronyms. The first one I can remember hearing is that “fuck” is an old acronym for “Fornication Under Consent of King,” from way back in the olden times when people were supposedly allowed to copulate only with permission of the king and they’d (again, supposedly) hang a sign on the door to let people know they got the O.K. to F.U.C.K. In reality, this word can be traced from words in many different languages, including Swedish, Norwegian, Scottish, Middle Dutch, and Middle English. All of the root words have relatively sexual meanings, but none of them relate to getting permission from a king even a little bit. Other explanations attest that signs hung outside of prisoners’ jail cells that said “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.”

        Another popular misconception is that “golf” stands for “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden,” but it really comes from the 15th-century Scottish word “gouf,” which trickled down from Middle Dutch and proto-Germanic words meaning “stick, club, bat.” Probably the worst instance of fake acronym etymology I’ve ever seen has to be a random internet post that said that some men used the word “swag” in the 1960’s as code for “Secretly We Are Gay.” The real origin of the word could not be farther from that, as it is related to the verb “swag,” which means “to move heavily or unsteadily” and derives from the Old Norse word sveggja, “to swing or sway.” These incorrect definitions, however absurd they may sound, make me wonder why people make up such lengthy explanations that have no real basis. There’s not much to gain about spreading a rumor online or by word of mouth that doesn’t have many good or bad affects, except misinforming people about everyday words. People wanting to know the origins of words but not having any real clue as to where they come from probably answers that question. Maybe everybody’s just as curious about etymology as I am, but don’t know where to look. In turn, people make up their own explanations for things they don’t understand. Maybe that’s what life is all about: finding explanations for what we don’t know in life.

By Carotrix Dubs


Acronyms and Folk Etymology

Sterling Eisiminger

The Journal of American Folklore , Vol. 91, No. 359 (Jan. – Mar., 1978), pp. 582-584

Published by: American Folklore Society

Article Stable URL: http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.hope.edu/stable/539576


“Online Etymology Dictionary.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Accessed April 04, 2013. http://etymonline.com/.


4 thoughts on “Ridiculous Acronyms

  1. hopeadvancedlatin Post author

    I think if we do not know what an acronym stands for, it is a naturally tendency to guess what it stands for. There is the NIT Tournament for the college basketball teams that do not make the field of 68 for the National Championship. For the longest time when I was younger I thought that NIT stood for “Not in Tournament”, this made sense to me because they were teams not in the major tournament. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I found out that NIT actually stands for “National Invitational Tournament”. Also, when I was in middle school some of my friends started a rumor that GAP stood for “Gay and Proud”. So whenever they saw someone wearing GAP brand clothing they would start laughing. People actually stopped wearing GAP brand clothing because they believed it to be true. Now that I look back it seems really dumb that people believed this and would stop wearing it. I found this post really interesting and reminded me of that story.
    -Skylar H

  2. hopeadvancedlatin Post author

    This is weird to think about. I never really thought much about where these “words” originated. I kind of just moved on with my day when people would say “swag,” but now that you bring it up I realized I need to be more active and thought provoking. When something is on my head and I don’t know what it is I need to search it and understand it. And it goes for class too.

  3. hopeadvancedlatin Post author

    i’ve always been interested in tracing etymologies of slang words in our culture. it only takes one person to say some clever word and it morphs and morphs into something entirely different. Most of these words stem from pop culture and music but part of me has always hoped that there were a select people that got to determine slang for the year. onomatopoeias are my other love, and my middle school latin teacher always referenced “ululavit” which is what the romans thought wolves sounded like. -Nathanus Huber


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