Recursive acronym

Recursive acronym

A recursive acronym (or occasionally recursive initialism, and sometimes recursive backronym) is an abbreviation that refers to itself in the expression for which it stands.

Computer-related examples

In computing, an early tradition in the hacker community (especially at MIT) was to choose acronyms and abbreviations that referred humorously to themselves or to other abbreviations. Perhaps the earliest example in this context, from about 1977 or 1978, is TINT ("TINT Is Not TECO"), an editor for MagicSix. This inspired the two MIT Lisp Machine editors called EINE ("EINE Is Not Emacs") and ZWEI ("ZWEI Was EINE Initially"). These were followed by Richard Stallman's GNU (GNU's not UNIX). Many others also include negatives, such as denials that the thing defined is or resembles something (that the thing defined is, in fact, usually similar to or even derived from).

Noted efforts include:

  • Allegro — Allegro Low LEvel Game ROutines (note: the acronym was originally Atari Low LEvel Game ROutines until development shifted away from the Atari ST)
  • CAVE — Cave Automatic Virtual Environment
  • Cygnus — Cygnus, Your GNU Support
  • Fred — Fred resembles emacs deliberately
  • giFT — giFT: Internet File Transfer
  • GiNaC — GiNaC is Not a CAS (Computer Algebra System)
  • GNE — GNE's Not an Encyclopedia
  • GNU — GNU's Not Unix
  • JACK — JACK Audio Connection Kit
  • JOE — Joe's Own Editor
  • KAGE — KAGE: Alternative Game Engine
  • LAME — LAME Ain't an MP3 Encoder
  • LiVES — LiVES is a Video Editing System
  • MiNT — MiNT is Not TOS (later changed to "MiNT is Now TOS")
  • Mung — Mung Until No Good
  • Nagios — Nagios Ain't Gonna Insist On Sainthood
  • NiL — NiL Isn't Liero
  • PHP — PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor (originally "Personal Home Page" tools, officially changed for PHP 3)
  • PINE — PINE Is Nearly Elm, originally; PINE now officially stands for "Pine Internet News and E-mail"
  • PNG — PNG's Not GIF
  • RPM — RPM Package Manager (originally "Red Hat Package Manager")
  • Scaled — Scaled Composites: Advanced Link to Efficient Development
  • SPARQL — SPARQL Protocol And RDF Query Language
  • TiLP — TiLP is a Linking Program
  • UIRA — UIRA Isn't a Recursive Acronym
  • WAM - WAM Account Manager
  • Wine — Wine Is Not an Emulator
  • XINU — Xinu Is Not Unix
  • XNA — XNA's Not Acronymed
  • YAML — YAML Ain't Markup Language (initially "Yet Another Markup Language")
  • Zinf — Zinf Is Not FreeA*p
  • ZINC — ZINC Is Not CMS

Mutually recursive or otherwise special

  • The GNU Hurd project is named with a mutually recursive acronym: "Hurd" stands for "Hird of Unix-Replacing Daemons", and "Hird" stands for "Hurd of Interfaces Representing Depth."
  • The GNUBrain project is another mutually recursive acronym: "Brain" stands for "Brian relates any independent node" and "Brian" stands for "Brain implements a network".
  • RPM and PHP were originally conventional initialisms which were later redefined recursively. They are not true backronyms, however, as the names were already abbreviations and are pronounced as initials rather than as words.
  • Jini claims the distinction of being the first recursive anti-acronym. 'Jini Is Not Initials'. It might, however, be more properly termed an anti-backronym because the term "Jini" never stood for anything in the first place. The more recent "XNA," on the other hand, was deliberately designed that way.
  • Most recursive acronyms are recursive on the first letter, which is therefore an arbitrary choice, often selected for reasons of humour or ease of pronunciation. However YOPY, "Your own personal YOPY" is recursive on the last letter (hence the last letter had to be the same as the first).

Non-technical examples

Recursive acronyms are not limited to computing terminology. For example, some companies have been named or renamed in this way:

  • NEAR — Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous
  • BWIA — BWIA West Indies Airways (formerly British West Indian Airways)
  • GES — GES Exposition Services (formerly Greyhound Exposition Services)
  • LINK (UK) — Link Interchange NetworK, the UK ATM switching organisation.
  • OIL - Oil India Limited - this is not truly recursive, as "Oil" in the description is not a repeat of the acronym, but the word "Oil".
  • SAABSaab Automobile Aktiebolaget (formerly Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget.)
  • TAP Air Portugal — in Portuguese, however, TAP is an acronym for Transportes Aéreos de Portugal and is not recursive
  • VISA — Visa International Service Association
  • ADAP - ADAP Discount Auto Parts
  • PTTEP - PTT Exploration and Production Public Company (Ltd.) (where PTT refers to PeTroleum of Thailand, this is confusingly single-nested as opposed to recursive)

There are also some organizations that employ recursive acronyms:

On the presumably first human being named with a recursive acronym was born in Germany. The boy's first name LIAS stands for “Lias Is Adrienne's Son.”

Fictional examples

  • In Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, published 1979, Douglas Hofstadter uses the acronym GOD, 'GOD Over Djinn'. As a genie explains to Achilles, GOD stands for GOD Over Djinn, remarking that "GOD can never be fully expanded." In the German translation it is rendered as "ZEUS ewig über Schinn", meaning "Zeus eternally over Djinn".
  • KOS-MOS — Kosmos Obey Strategical Multiple Operation Systems, from the video game series Xenosaga.
  • In the BBC series Look Around You, a parody of British educational television programs from the Seventies, MATHS was said to stand for "Mathematical Anti-Telharsic Harfatum Septomin".
  • A recursive initialism appeared in a Dilbert comic strip, in which Dilbert states that the TTP project refers to The TTP Project (this is also an infinitely-redundant case of RAS syndrome).
  • In Twin Peaks, Laura Palmer figured that her nemesis, Bob, was an acronym for "Beware of Bob"
  • In the Archie Comics series Sonic the Hedgehog, the digital son of Eggman is named A.D.A.M., which has two meanings, one of which is "A.D.A.M. Determines Anonymous' Movements".
  • In an episode of M*A*S*H, Radar O'Reilly refers to A.W.O.L as "A.W.O.L. without official leave".


See also

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