A Blog by Carl Zimmer

A Question for Friday: Why Do Scientists Love, Love, Love Acronyms?

11 thoughts on “A Question for Friday: Why Do Scientists Love, Love, Love Acronyms?

  1. Because we don’t get to name things when they’re done. We name them when we propose it to the people who pay for the stuff.

    “We’d like 10 billion for our nifty new space telescope, please. And, um, we’d like to call it ‘Fred’.

    Not OK, you say? Your audience ­— your voters and our financiers — would chase you out of office? OK, let’s call it MUSCULAR then. We’ll figure out what it means later.”

  2. From SUNY Geneseo: Students worked with High-Speed RaPToRS (Rapid Pneumatic Transport of Radioactive Samples).
    Of course, when dealing with radioactive material, you have to worry about VELoCiRaPToRS (Venting and Exhausting of Low Level Air Contaminants in the Rapid Pneumatic Transport of Radioactive Samples).

    Note they were pretty selective about which words to include (they left out “air” and the second “L” from “level” but kept the “Lo” from “Low”)

  3. I used to be an electrical/systems engineer, and I worked for a military contractor where acronyms were beloved and flew freely. As a bit of a protest to that, on one of the later projects I worked on, the system design team named some pieces of the system CURSE, FEAR, and DREAD; we couldn’t come up with equally good acronyms for the other pieces. When we got far enough along that upper management got wind of our names, they had a collective fit. The pieces were renamed something drab before the system design was presented to the customer’s evaluation team. But for most of the length of the project, we delighted in keeping the old names internally, mostly for the fun of irritating upper management.

  4. I’ve always liked the journal abbreviation, PNAS (Proceedings of the National Aceademy of Science). Except, rather than say the individual letters, say it as P-Nas. Then say it quickly. “My paper was accepted by PNAS!” “Did you see the contents of the newest PNAS?” “Love the evolutionary biology and genetics stuff coming out of PNAS lately.”

  5. I once managed a project called ‘DOPE: the Drug Ontology Project for Elsevier’ (the byline was: ‘because we push it from Amsterdam’!)

  6. Actual astronomical acronyms, which tend toward the banal:

    ELT (Extremely Large Telescope)
    VLT (Very Large Telescope)
    OWL (Overwhelmingly Large Telescope)

    Makes me want to will my estate to the construction of, I don’t know, the Big Ol’ Honkin’ Telescope or something,

  7. Many clinical trials get silly acronyms as their names, and some, such as this one, are just fantastic (but completely unreasonable):

    BEAUTIFUL (morBidity-mortality EvAlUaTion of the IF inhibitor ivabradine in patients with coronary disease and left ventricULar dysfunction)

  8. as “Cmdr Awesome” already said, you have a lot to learn from us, CS grads, heh.
    just to name two:
    – GNU: a recursive acronym meaning /G/NU is Not Unix. [1]
    (I’ll just copy-pasta from wikipedia [2] here, because it is awesome)

    ‘It’s time [to] explain the meaning of “Hurd”. “Hurd” stands for “Hird of Unix-Replacing Daemons”. And, then, “Hird” stands for “Hurd of Interfaces Representing Depth”. We have here, to my knowledge, the first software to be named by a pair of mutually recursive acronyms.’ —Thomas (then Michael) Bushnell

    ‘As both hurd and hird are homophones of the English word herd, the full name GNU Hurd is also a play on the words herd of gnus, reflecting how the kernel works.’

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNU
    [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNU_Hurd

  9. The conference Biomathematics and Ecology: Education and Research (BEER), it shows what some people really do at conferences =)

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