7 False Acronyms

Sure, everyone knows that SCUBA stands for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. And right, most of us know that AWOL stands for Absent Without Leave. But what about all those supposed acronyms, like Golf and Posh, that aren't really acronyms at all. Here are seven false ones you need to know"¦ at least to be able to impress friends at parties.

1. Posh

Supposed Meaning: Port out starboard home

As the old legend goes, back when travel between India and Britain was done by ship via the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, those in the first class cabins, or the "posh" passengers, usually sat "port out, starboard home" to be shaded from the sun. These tickets, which were stamped POSH, were prized among wealthy English travelers and the name became synonymous with fashion and luxury. However, the company has repeatedly denied this practice and the origin of posh is uncertain. But thanks to popular culture, like the 1968 musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with its "port out starboard home" lyrics in the song "Posh," the false acronym will probably never completely die.

2. Golf

Supposed Meaning: Gentleman only, ladies forbidden

golfMany people think that golf means "Gentleman only, ladies forbidden." And maybe because it was a sport dominated by certain types of men for so long, the myth stuck. But there's no truth to this one. As for the real origin of the word golf, one theory says it's derived from the Dutch word kolf, which means a stick or club, as in the kind Tiger Woods uses to hit a ball 300 yards onto the green. And the Scotts have a similar-sounding word, goul, which means, "to strike or cut off."

While we don't know the origin of the word, we do know that the first documented mention of the word was in Edinburgh in 1457, when King James II banned "˜ye golf', in an attempt to encourage archery practice. Word.

3. Adidas

Supposed Meaning: All Day I Dream About Sports and/or Sex

AdidasLogoThere are two popular false acronyms behind Adidas, the German-based sports apparel company. The first, and most commonly used is "All Day I Dream About Sports." Although it would seem to make sense, the popular phrase was coined years after the company was founded. The second was popularized in a 1997 Korn song titled "A.D.I.D.A.S." and is said to mean "All Day I Dream About Sex." As our readers point out in the comments below, this backronym has been around since the early 80s, at least. Of course, the word Adidas was never an acronym and is actually a portmanteau of the company's founder's name, Adolph "Adi" Dassler. When you blend Adi with the first three letters of his last name, you get Adidas.

4. KISS (the rock group)

Supposed Meaning: Knights in Satan's Service

gene-simmons-photoAlthough they may look like "Knights in Satan's Service", the make-up clad members of KISS are not the fire-breathing devil worshipers as this false acronym may suggest. According to Gene Simmons, the rumor began after he half-jokingly told an interviewer that he sometimes wondered what human flesh tasted like. Almost immediately after, the band became rock music's foremost Satanists. In some ways, the band both embraced and perpetuated the rumor by refusing to answer whether or not they worshipped the devil. Years later when Simmons was asked why he chose the name for the band, he simply replied, "We just liked it."

Fun Fact: Although he's been known to spit blood on stage, Gene Simmons studied theology at Sullivan Community College in New York.


Supposed Meaning: Respond to Sender Via Post

We've all received wedding invitations where the host has asked us to R.S.V.P. by a certain date, and in American culture it's rude not to "respond to sender via post." Who knows what the etiquette is in France, where the phrase originates. What's certain is that the actual French translation of the phrase is merely "please respond," or, in French, repondez s'il vous plait.

6. Cop

Supposed Meaning: Constable on Patrol

However, cop is neither an acronym for "constable on patrol" nor a slang term to describe the copper buttons on the uniforms of 18th century New York City police officers. The word cop was initially used in the 1840s as a verb meaning "to arrest." Slowly, the word transformed from 'to arrest into police custody' to describe the person doing the arresting. Soon after, police officers started being called "coppers."

7. Bing

Supposed Meaning: But It's Not Google

Picture 2When I first heard about Microsoft's new search engine, Bing, I thought maybe it had something to do with the Bada Bing! from the Sopranos. So I started poking around for the origin of the word. What I first discovered was a false acronym. Yes, some in the tech world are saying that Bing stands for "But It's Not Google." However, the folks over at the world's largest software company say that Bing is meant to invoke "the sound of found", as in "Bingo! I got it!" This is not the first time Bill Gates and company attempted to release a search engine to compete with Google. Previous efforts with MSN Search (bong) and Live Search (bang) both proved unsuccessful. I dunno, what do you all think of Bing?

Pete Toscano, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Here's the Right Way to Pronounce 'Pulitzer'
Pete Toscano, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Pete Toscano, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The Pulitzer Prize has been awarded to top creative and scientific minds for over 100 years. Named after late 19th-century newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, the prize is a household name, yet its pronunciation still tends to trip people up. Is it “pull-itzer” or “pew-litzer”?

Poynter set the record straight just in time for today’s announcement of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize winners. Emily Rauh Pulitzer, wife of the late Joseph Pulitzer Jr., told Poynter, “My husband said that his father told people to say ‘Pull it sir.’”

If you’ve been saying it wrong, don’t feel too bad. Edwin Battistella, a linguist and professor at Southern Oregon University, said he pronounced it “pew-lit-zer” until a friend corrected him. Battistella looked to Joseph Pulitzer’s family history to explain why so many people pronounce it incorrectly. He writes on the Oxford University Press's OUPBlog:

“[Joseph Pulitzer] was born in Hungary, where Pulitzer, or Politzer as it is sometimes spelled, was a common family name derived from a place name in southern Moravia, the village of Pullitz. In the United States, the spelling Pulitzer would have quite naturally been Anglicized as PEW-lit-zer by analogy to the other pu spellings like pure, puritanical, pubic, puce, and so on.”

Ultimately, though, it’s up to the family to decide how they’d like their surname to be pronounced. Here it is, pronounced just how the Pulitzers like it, in a YouTube video:

[h/t Poynter]

Researchers Claim to Crack the Voynich Manuscript Using AI, But Experts Are Skeptical

Computing scientists at the University of Alberta recently made a bold claim: They say they’ve identified the source language of the baffling Voynich Manuscript, and they did so using artificial intelligence.

Their study, published in Transactions of the Association of Computational Linguistics [PDF], basically states that an AI algorithm trained to recognize hundreds of languages determined the Voynich Manuscript to be encoded Hebrew. On the surface, this looks like a huge breakthrough: Since it was rediscovered a century ago, the Voynich Manuscript’s indecipherable text has stumped everyone from World War II codebreakers to computer programmers. But experts are hesitant to give credence to the news. “I have very little faith in it,” cryptographer Elonka Dunin tells Mental Floss. “Hebrew, and dozens of other languages have been identified before. Everyone sees what they want to see.”

Anyone who’s familiar with the Voynich Manuscript should understand the skepticism. The book, which contains 246 pages of illustrations and apparent words written in an unknown script, is obscured by mystery. It’s named for Wilfrid Voynich, the Polish book dealer who purchased it in 1912, but experts believe it was written 600 years ago. Nothing is known about the person who authored it or the book’s purpose.

Many cryptologists suspect the text is a cipher, or a coded pattern of letters that must be unscrambled to make sense. But no code has been identified even after decades of the world’s best cryptographers testing countless combinations. With their study, the researchers at the University of Alberta claim to have done something different. Instead of relying on human linguists and codebreakers, they developed an AI program capable of identifying the source languages of text. They fed the technology 380 versions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, each one translated into a different language and enciphered. After learning to recognize codes in various languages, the AI was given some pages of the Voynich Manuscript. Based on what it had seen already, it named Hebrew as the book’s original language—a surprise to the researchers, who were expecting Arabic.

The researchers then devised an algorithm that rearranged the letters into real words. They were able to make actual Hebrew out of 80 percent of the encoded words in the manuscript. Next, they needed to find an ancient Hebrew scholar to look at the words and determine if they fit together coherently.

But the researchers claim they were unable to get in touch with any scholars, and instead used Google Translate to make sense of the first sentence of the manuscript. In English, the decoded words they came up with read, “She made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people." Study co-author Greg Kondrak said in a release, “It’s a kind of strange sentence to start a manuscript but it definitely makes sense.”

Dunin is less optimistic. According to her, naming a possible cipher and source language without actually translating more of the text is no cause for celebration. “They identify a method without decrypting a paragraph,” she says. Even their method is questionable. Dunin points out the AI program was trained using ciphers that the researchers themselves wrote, not ciphers from real life. “They scrambled the texts using their own system, then they used their own software to de-scramble those. Then they used it on the manuscript and said, ‘Oh look, it’s Hebrew!’ So it’s a big, big leap.”

The University of Alberta researchers aren’t the first to claim they’ve identified the language of the Voynich Manuscript, and they won’t be the last. But unless they’re able the decode the full text into a meaningful language, the manuscript remains as mysterious today as it did 100 years ago. And if you agree with cryptographers like Dunin who think the book might be a constructed language, a detailed hoax, or even a product of mental illness, it’s a mystery without a satisfying explanation.


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