or bac·ro·nym

[ bak-ruh-nim ]
/ ˈbæk rə nɪm /


an existing word turned into an acronym by creating an apt phrase whose initial letters match the word, as to help remember it or offer a theory of its origin. For example, rap has been said to be a backronym of “rhythm and poetry.”
the phrase itself. For example, “port out, starboard home” is a misleading backronym for posh.



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Origin of backronym

First recorded in 1980–85; back1 + (ac)ronym Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021


What does backronym mean?

A backronym is an existing word that has been artificially made into an acronym, typically by matching each letter in it to a word to make a phrase that’s somehow related.

An acronym is a word formed by abbreviating a phrase by combining certain letters of words in the phrase (often the first initial of each) into a single term. NASA is an acronym for National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

To be clear, in backronyms, the letters don’t actually stand for the words they’re claimed or said to. Forming backronyms can be done for several reasons, such as to help remember how to spell the word, or, more frequently, to suggest a humorous or intentionally misleading explanation of its origin.

A classic example of a misleading backronym involves the word posh, meaning “luxurious,” which is sometimes claimed to have come from an abbreviation of the phrase port out, starboard home. The story goes that the wealthiest passengers of ships would get to stay in cabins that faced this direction, and their tickets would be stamped with the letters POSH to indicate this—the supposed origin of the term posh. It’s possible that those letters have been stamped on a ticket, but there’s simply no evidence that this is where the word posh comes from.

Less commonly, backronym is spelled bacronym.

Example: I just saw a post claiming that the word car was originally an acronym for “catch a ride,” and I had to explain that it was a totally bogus backronym.

Where does backronym come from?

The first records of the word backronym come from the 1980s. It comes from a combination of the word back (used in much the same way as it is in back formation) and acronym. Acronym is a combination of acro, meaning “tip end” and referring to using the first letters of each word in a phrase) and -onym, meaning “name” (as seen in words like synonym, antonym, and pseudonym). A backronym is essentially a backwards acronym—an acronym formed in reverse.

The internet occasionally lights up with a viral post claiming that some everyday word actually comes from an acronym. People lost their minds when they found out that the word tag comes from the phrase touch and go. The problem is, this is not true. And it’s very rarely true.

Another example involves the word rap (the musical genre), which is sometimes claimed to be a backronym of the phrase rhythm and poetry (also not true).

Backronyms are usually less about misinformation than about making a joke. People like to take certain brand names and make backronyms out of them to make fun of them in some way. For example, disgruntled owners of Ford cars like to say that the brand name actually stands for Fix or repair daily (for the record, it comes from the name of company founder, Henry Ford).

Backronyms are often tempting to believe, especially since we all love a good origin story and a bit of interesting trivia. But the next time you see someone claiming that a common word actually comes from an acronym, check with the experts first—we’ll set you straight.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to backronym?

  • bacronym (alternate spelling)

What are some words that share a root or word element with backronym

What are some words that often get used in discussing backronym?

How is backronym used in real life?

Backronym isn’t a very well-known word. You’ll most often see it when people are correcting misleading information about the origin of words.


Try using backronym!

True or False? 

Backronyms are always used to fool people into thinking a common word came from an acronym.