Y.E.S: These Words Are Acronyms

Base jumping

The phrase base jumping (the extreme sport of parachuting from the tops of very tall objects, like skyscrapers) doesn’t actually refer to bouncing at the base of a land mass, or pogo sticking around an army base. When followed by the word jumping, base—or, in its capitalized acronym form BASE—stands for “Building, Antenna, Span, and Earth.” These words are the four categories of places true base jumpers will jump from.

Canola oil

Surprise, surprise, canola isn’t a word like vegetable, peanut, or coconut. It stands for “Canada oil, low acid.” The oil is made from the unfortunately named rape seed, which, when crushed, produces a fairly tasteless vegetable oil.

Aside from its unpleasant name, another ill-fated aspect of the rape seed is that it’s high in an acid toxic to humans. So Canada rose to the challenge in the 1960s and developed  “low acid” canola oil safe for human consumption. Thanks to our neighbors up north, we have an oil great for frying and baking, and the lowest in saturated fats of any veggie oils out there. Nicely done, eh?


Of all the words in the list, this is one you might’ve sensed was an acronym, especially if we write it as it usually appears: CAPTCHAA CAPTCHA is that wonky boxed text you see at the bottom of any online registration page, or in order to post a comment on an article. It stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.” Ironically, human identity is disclosed through our ability to read warped, computer-modified text; computers aren’t that advanced…yet.

Care package

Rest assured, care still relates to the thoughtfulness we put into our get-well baskets and boxes shipped to loved ones. But it goes deeper than that, taking the concept of care and translating it into a relief effort that originated during World War II.

This is actually a backronym, created by deliberately choosing a meaningful word and fitting relevant words into it. In 1945 22 American organizations sent CARE Packages of food to soldiers. Originally, CARE stood for Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe, but it now refers to the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere.


Humvee isn’t a company, and it doesn’t even stand for Hummer Vehicle. Humvee is another example of an easily pronounceable term that thankfully came into existence, because the abbreviation it stands for is a garbled mess: HMMWV.

This string of letters that would have us sounding like we’re “hmphing” actually stands for High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle. These are the defensive military vehicles that basically splice a jeep with a truck. But these jeep-trucks can operate in deserts and jungles, carry everything from machine guns to anti-tank missile launchers, and protect against bullets, bombs, and mines. 

Nerf ball

Remember that ‘90s commercial with the kid who “goes long” to catch the Nerf Turbo Football—as in, past city limits, a cornfield, a horribly fake desert, across the Alps, and into a Disney-looking locale somewhere in the Arab world where guys wear turbans (maybe Morocco)? Yes, that’s the nerf we’re talking about.

We always thought nerf was an invented word that was humorously close to “nerd” and simply identified a less realistic version of something (like, a football). But, nerf enthusiasts swear the word is an acronym for “Non-Expandable Recreational Foam.” The magical material was used by Parker Brothers in 1969 to create the first ball for indoor use. It promised not to “damage lamps or break windows” or “hurt babies or old people.” It didn’t say anything about not knocking over Mom’s heirloom vase and shattering it on the floor.  


Before this South Asian country became a nation in 1947, there were Muslim Indian separatists who were itching for a break with India, which was primarily Hindu. In the early 1930s, a Muslim activist who wanted to partition from India, Choudry Rahmat Ali, coined PAKSTAN to refer to all the Muslim-majority regions encompassed by the newly proposed country: Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Indus-Sindh, and Baluchistan.

For a Muslim living in those regions, PAKISTAN was a fitting acronym for another reason. Pak means “pure” in Pashto and Persian, and istan means “place” in Hindi.


A bearded bespectacled doctor named Christian Lambertsen (who incidentally looks like a Nordic sea captain) coined this tuba-rhyming acronym. You wouldn’t be able to plunge into the depths of any body of water deeper than your bathtub for really long periods of time without the SCUBA, or Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.

SCUBA was a military code name for the Lambertsen Lung created in 1954 for “military frogmen”—an incredible term in itself that highlights how Lambertsen’s device enables us to experience what it’s like to live like amphibians…while also fighting crime and ensuring national security.

Smart car

For obvious reasons, we’re drawn to think smart refers to the fact that the car is—like our phones—equipped with highly intelligent technological features with internet-connectivity and a really intuitive human-machine interface. That’s smart guessing, but not 100% correct here.

In this case, smart is an acronym for “Swatch Mercedes art,” bringing together the two companies who partnered to create the car in 1998 and the artistry used to design the car and brand.


If you’re ever in the need to euphemize your four-letter words (“H-E-double hockey sticks” ring a bell?), SNAFU is one of the best. When you’re in a situation that just got really messed up, you’re experiencing a snafu. It’s like Thanksgiving dinner with the fam and suddenly Uncle Mort starts talking about how halitosis is ruining his sex life.

Soldiers in the 1940s started using this acronym, which stands for “Situation Normal: All Fd Up.” Understandably, this expression was born during WWII as a way for soldiers to voice their feelings about the chaos, the futility of war and the dysfunction of military higher-ups.

Taser & Laser

Strangely enough, the origin of the TASER acronym is less serious than the weapon’s function would have you think. The letters are a partial acronym of a 1911 book called Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle. Jack Cover, the inventor of the Taser, was inspired by his favorite work of childhood fiction.

On the other hand, LASER has serious roots in physics. The name for the high-intensity beam of light stands for “Lightwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.” Making a game out of that mouthful would be hopeless.

Zip code

ZIP is an acronym for “Zoning Improvement Plan,” and was introduced in the 1960s order to make sending mail more efficient.

The 5-digit code took off with the help of Mr. ZIP, a cartoon who’s so serious about ZIP codes, his upper body is impossibly forward-thrusting (Progress! Future! Speed!). The United States Post Office used Mr. ZIP (affectionately called “Zippy”) to encourage the use of the ZIP code. Seems like it worked.

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