Recursive acronym

From Academic Kids

A recursive acronym is an acronym (or occasionally, a backronym) which refers to itself in the expression for which it stands, similar to a recursive abbreviation. Though, because of their lack of a termination condition, perhaps a more accurate term would be circular acronym.

The earliest example is perhaps the credit card VISA, which was named in 1976 as a recursive acronym for VISA International Service Association.

In computing, it soon became a hackish (and especially MIT) tradition to choose acronyms and abbreviations which 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"). (Note that "eine" and "zwei" are German for "[female] one" and "two".)

More recent efforts include:

  • Cygnus — Cygnus, Your GNU Support (though Cygnus says this is a backronym, while opponents maintain Cygnus, Your GNU Sucks)
  • GiFT — GiFT: Internet File Transfer, unofficially: "GiFT Isn't FastTrack"
  • GiNaC — GiNaC is Not a CAS
  • GNU — GNU's Not Unix!
  • LAME — LAME Ain't an MP3 Encoder
  • LIAR, a Scheme compiler — LIAR Imitates Apply Recursively
  • MINC — MINC Is Not C
  • mung — Mung Until No Good
  • NiL — NiL Isn't Liero
  • PHP — PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor (another backronym - originated as "Personal Home Page" tools)
  • PINE — Pine is not Elm
  • RPM — RPM Package Manager (originally "Red Hat Package Manager")
  • Scaled — Scaled Composites: Advanced Link to Efficient Development
  • TRM — TRM Recognizes Music
  • TTP — The TTP Project (from Dilbert)
  • Wine — Wine Is Not an Emulator
  • YAML — YAML Ain't Markup Language
  • Zinf — Zinf Is Not FreeA*p!

The GNU Hurd project is named with a mutually-recursive acronym: "GNU" stands for "GNU's Not UNIX", "Hurd" stands for "Hird of Unix-Replacing Daemons," and "Hird" stands for "Hurd of Interfaces Representing Depth."

Recursive acronyms appeared in a Dilbert comic strip, in which Dilbert states that the TTP project refers to The TTP Project (this is also a triply-redundant case of RAS syndrome).

A number of recursive acronyms are backronyms, which used to expand to a different string but whose expansion changed once the acronym was well-known, for one reason or another, to one which included the acronym itself. This includes at least PHP and RPM.

There is also a use of a recursive acronym in Gdel, Escher, Bach: GOD, the name of a genie, that stands for God Over Djinn. When asked to grant a meta-wish for an infinite number of ordinary wishes to be granted, GOD had to initiate an infinite recursion to all the GODs above him to get the required permission for such a wish. However, since each wish took half the time of the previous wish, the series converged, and the wish was fulfilled in a finite amount of time.


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