PC 284 Knowing your nyms and mnemonics!

An acronym is an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word; not to be confused with an abbreviation. Words ending in ….nym are often used to describe different classes of words and the relationship between words; nym literally means ‘name’ in Greek. The word ‘acronym’ appeared in The Times’ Codeword on 9 May 2022. It registered in my subconscious and for some reason I associate it with ‘mnemonic’ (don’t ask!) which coincidentally appeared in the same puzzle four days later on 13th May! This is enough reason to start scribbling!!

So first, what about the …. nyms? There is a long list of these and I thought I could just mention a few, not wanting to ‘nym’ you to sleep! Let’s start with ‘chrononym’, a term for a specific period of time, such as summer or week; ‘homonyms’ are words with identical pronunciations but different spellings and meaning, such as site and sight, or words with identical pronunciations and spellings but different meanings such as ‘coach’ (single-decker bus) and ‘coach’ (to train a team); we have all heard of a ‘pseudonym’, the fictitious name, especially one used by an author – for example JK Rowling’s series of novels under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, (Note 1); ‘synonyms’ meaning similar and opposite words; lastly in this selection ‘xenonym’, a name for a people or a language or a city which is not used by the natives themselves – for example the German city of Cologne is known by the Deutsche as Koln.

I couldn’t find acronym in my old dictionary (when I hear ‘acro’ I immediately think of acrow prop and their use in supporting ceilings etc!!). Here in Europe the acronym NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) is very much in the news at the moment. Set up in 1949 to provide collective security against the Soviet Union, one of its founding principles is an attack on one member is considered an attack on all. Finland and Sweden are currently seeking to join the alliance, the last thing that Putin imagined when he started his ill-fated invasion of Ukraine.

Other well-used acronyms whose origins are maybe unclear are RADAR (radio detecting and ranging), SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus), WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), AWOL (absent without leave), LASER (light amplification by the stimulated emission of radiation), FUCK (for unlawful carnal knowledge) and NASA. Most people know that Benelux is an acronym for the countries of Belgium Netherlands and Luxembourg and that PIN stands for Personal Identification Number but what about TASER? Actually the American inventor of this incapacitator Jack Cover was a fan of the Tom Swift books about an inventor of amazing gadgets so it stands for Tom A Swift Electric Rifle! You might have thought that COVID was an acronym but it doesn’t follow the rule of using the initial letters; it is simply the name for the virus SARS – CoV-2 or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2. Staying on the medical theme, AIDS is an acronym, standing for Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and FACE Face  (Smile? Eyes dropped?) Arms (Raise both arms?) Speech (Speak and understand?) and Time (To call the emergency number) to assist in the identification of a stroke.

WAGs have been in the news here in the UK. For those of you bemused by this acronym, it came about when the Wives And Girlfriends (WAGs) of our national football team accompanied their partners at some football match in 2006, and were photographed by the paparazzi shopping. Two WAGs called Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy have been in the High Court in London fighting a libel case; in the popular press dubbed Wagatha Christie! The vacuous nature of the spat was neatly summed up by Hilary Rose in The Times: “Two women spending millions of pounds and hours of their lives slugging it out over something that doesn’t matter. The case will turn on such matters as who follows who on Instagram, whether you would be offended if someone unfollowed you, who said what to whom and why.”         Sad!

And given that a recent football player moved to an English club on a salary of over £440k per week I scratch my head and wonder how obscene is the amount of money washing around this sport, so divorced from the real world of its fan base. Being paid only 1% of this amount would be beyond most individual’s wildest dreams.

While BIT, a Binary digit, a basic unit of information in a binary numbering system, is an acronym, the BBC, BT, BACS and ISBN are not. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) is an abbreviation as is LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender) but these days you could add the letter Q if you continue to question and a ‘+’ if ‘intersex’. 

Mnemonics are simple ways to remember sequences, items, ideas For instance the colours of the spectrum of light can be remembered by ‘ROYGBIV’ – red orange yellow green blue indigo violet. Then there is the rhyme mnemonic to remember how many days in each month – ‘30 days hath September, April, June and November. All the rest have 31 except February my dear son; it has 28 and that is fine, but in a Leap Year 29.’

With my navigator’s hat on, we have “Grid to mag add, mag to grid get rid.” This mnemonic helps when you need to convert a bearing on a map or chart to a compass bearing as the compass is affected by the earth’s magnetic field. If you are confused about Latitude and Longitude remember this connection mnemonic: there is an N in Longitude and an N in North. Therefore lines of Latitude must run east to west as there is no N in latitude!

Our Intake DS Staff Sergeant Cameron Scots Guards at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst would be amused, I hope, that I still remember GRIT Group Range Indication Type of Fire (Normally shouted with an urgent voice: “One section, 150m to front, machine gun in hedgerow, rapid fire!”, a very basic military infantry mnemonic.

King George III came to the throne in 1760. For those who had an interest in these things but a poor memory, the mnemonic ‘George III said with a smile, 1760 yards in a mile.’ sufficed. For those of you who have fully converted to the metric system of measurement, it’s nonsense!

Richard 27th May 2022


Note 1 Others include Eric Blair (George Orwell), Mary Evans (George Eliot), Charlotte Brontë (Currer Bell), CS Lewis (Clive Hamilton) and Agatha Christie (Mary Westmacott)

2 thoughts on “PC 284 Knowing your nyms and mnemonics!

  1. very educational.  Excellent piece. COMMCRUDESLANT 7.  Commander Cruiser Destroyers Atlantic.



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