50 Acronyms and Initialisms All Spelled Out

Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images
Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images

You know the brands and companies, but do you know what all those letters stand for?

1. BMW

The white and blue BMW logo
Jacques Demarthon, AFP/Getty Images

BMW stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke in German, which translates to "Bavarian Motor Works."

2. L.L. BEAN

A man surrounded by LL Bean boxes.
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

The company is named after its founder, Leon Leonwood Bean.

3. CVS

Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

When it was founded in 1963, CVS originally stood for Consumer Value Stores. At that time, it sold health and beauty products. Only in 1967 did CVS begin operating locations with pharmacy departments. In 1969, CVS was sold to Melville Corporation, and in 1996, it became "CVS Corporation."

4. YKK

Those letters on seemingly every zipper stand for Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikikaisha in Japanese, which translates to "Yoshida Manufacturing Corporation." The first word refers to the founder, Tadao Yoshida.

5. A&W

Scott Olson, Getty Images

The A and W of A&W are founders (Roy) Allen and (Frank) Wright.

6. M&M'S

Spencer Platt, Getty Images

M&M’s stands for Mars & Murrie's, referring to founders Forrest Mars, Sr. and Bruce Murrie.

7. 3M

Koen van Weel, AFP/Getty Images

3M Company—which became its legal name in 2002—is an abbreviation of its former moniker, the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company.

8. HSBC

Miguel Medina, AFP/Getty Images

HSBC stands for Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation.

9. TCBY

TCBY
iStock

TCBY stands for The Country's Best Yogurt. It used to mean This Can't Be Yogurt, but they were sued by the rival frozen yogurt chain I Can't Believe It's Yogurt!, which was founded four years before TCBY.

10. KMART

Kmart
Scott Olson, Getty Images

Kmart is not, in fact, a place to shop for K's. The K is for Kresge, as in founder Sebastian S. Kresge.

11. DSW

DSW
Emmanuel Dunand, AFP/Getty Images

DSW stands for Designer Shoe Warehouse.

12. JCPENNEY

JCPenney
Drew Angerer, Getty Images

JCPenney was founded by James Cash Penney. With a name like that, he was destined to go into the world of business.

13. FIAT

FIAT logo
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

FIAT originally stood for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, which translates as "Italian automobile factory of Turin."

14. TASER

TASER
Fred Dufour, AFP/Getty Images

The name TASER comes from Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle, a 1911 science fiction novel by Victor Appleton that imagined an electric gun. The device from the book was the inspiration for the real-life TASER.

15. SMART CAR

Smart car
Sean Gallup, Getty Images

A collaboration between Swatch and Mercedes, the "smart" in smart car is short for Swatch Mercedes Art.

16. ZIP CODE

packages
iStock

The "ZIP" stands for Zone Improvement Plan.

17. USA PATRIOT ACT

American flag
iStock

This long acronym means Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.

18. EOS

Sebastian Reuter, Getty Images for OuterInsight

You might know eos as the cosmetic company that makes those delightful spherical lip balms. The name is short for Evolution of Smooth.

19. MAC

MAC Cosmetics store
Andreas Rentz, Getty Images

MAC (stylized as M·A·C) stands for Make-up Art Cosmetics (saying MAC Cosmetics is technically redundant). It was founded by makeup artist and photographer Frank Toskan and salon owner Frank Angelo with the goal of creating cosmetics that photographed well.

20. P.C. RICHARD & SON

Refrigerators in a P.C. Richard & Son
Mario Tama, Getty Images

This store was named for founder Peter Christian Richard.

21. REI

an REI store
Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images

REI = Recreational Equipment, Inc.

22. H&M

Sean Gallup, Getty Images

The company started in 1947 as women's fashion retailer Hennes, Swedish for "Hers." In 1968, they acquired hunting apparel and fishing equipment retailer Mauritz Widforss and the name became Hennes & Mauritz. In 1974, it was simplified to just H&M.

23. IBM

Alexander Koerner, Getty Images

The technology company's name stands for International Business Machines.

24. D.A.R.E.

Lance Cpl. Samantha Foster, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

D.A.R.E. is an acronym for Drug Abuse Resistance Education. It also works as part of the motto "D.A.R.E. to resist drugs and violence," which was emblazoned on t-shirts that became a fad in the '90s.

25. GEICO

Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

GEICO stands for Government Employees Insurance Company. Why? When GEICO first started, it was targeted to U.S. government employees and military personnel.

26. NECCO

NECCO stands for New England Confectionery Company.

27. FAO SCHWARZ

FAO Schwarz
Jewel Samad, AFP/Getty Images

Frederick August Otto Schwarz founded the legendary toy store, which closed in 2015 only to announce in 2017 that it's coming back to New York City.

28. DHL

DHL truck
Sean Gallup, Getty Images

The shipping and transportation company was christened after the last names of the founders: Adrian Dalsey, Larry Hillblom, and Robert Lynn.

29. JBL

JBL iPod speaker
William B. Plowman, Getty Images

The speaker company was founded by James B. Lansing, and its full name was James B. Lansing Sound, Incorporated. After a legal dispute about their name, the company decided to go by "JBL."

30. ALF

Amazon

The 1986 series ALF follows Gordon Shumway, an extraterrestrial being whose nickname is an acronym for Alien Life Form.

31. UPS

Scott Olson, Getty Images

UPS stands for United Parcel Service. (The company's full name is United Parcel Service of America.)

32. E.L.F.

Shantel Jang, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This makeup brand's name isn't referring to the mythical creature—e.l.f. is an acronym for eyes, lips, face.

33. PAM

iStock

The cooking spray isn't named after anyone called Pam. It stands for Product of Arthur Meyerhoff, the founder of PAM Products, Inc.

34. BJ'S

Jeff Fusco, Getty Images

The "BJ" in BJ's Wholesale Club refers to Beverly Jean Weich, the daughter of Mervyn Weich, the company's first president.

35. CAPTCHA

iStock

That code you have to type in for security purposes stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.

36. AFLAC

Dia Dipasupil, Getty Images

The American Family Life Insurance Company of Columbus was founded in 1955, later altering the name to the American Family Life Assurance Company, and the acronym Aflac was adopted in 1989.

37. O.P.I.

Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images for ELLE Magazine

Nail polish brand OPI (stylized as O·P·I) was originally founded as dental supply Odontorium Products Inc. The company’s CEO made the switch when he realized that their dental acrylics were being used in the manicure industry.

38. L.E.I.

l.e.i. jeans
Walmart

Girls who grew up in the '90s and '00s will remember the denim label l.e.i. (which still exists!). The brand, which was marketed exclusively to teens and young adults, stands for Life Energy Intelligence.

39. HTC

HTC Vive VR headset
Tomohiro Ohsumi, Getty Images

HTC is frequently cited as standing for High Tech Computer Company (yes, there's only one "C" in the initialism), but many point out the coincidence of the co-founder’s name being HT Cho.

40. WWE

John Cena with WWE background
Ethan Miller, Getty Images

WWE is a pretty straightforward initialism: World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.

41. WWF

paper lantern with WWF logo
Filippo Monteforte, AFP/Getty Images

WWF, with its iconic giant panda logo, stands for World Wildlife Fund in the U.S. and Canada. In other markets, it stands for World Wide Fund for Nature.

42. ESPN

People arrive at the Invictus Games Orlando 2016
Chris Jackson, Getty Images for Invictus Games

ESPN = Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.

43. LG

LG logo
Pau Barrena, AFP/Getty Images

LG used to mean Lucky-Goldstar, but now the company says its initials stand for "Life's Good."

44. UNICEF

Unicef banner
iStock

UNICEF = United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund. As its mandate changed, it became the United Nations Children's Fund.

46. NBC

NBC logo
Michael Nagle, Getty Images

National Broadcasting Company.

47. ABC

ABC logo
Mario Tama, Getty Images

American Broadcasting Company.

48. CBS

CBS headquarters
Andrew Burton, Getty Images

CBS is an abbreviation of the company's former full name: Columbia Broadcasting System. In 1974, it became known as simply "CBS."

49. CNN

CNN building
David McNew, Newsmakers

Cable News Network.

50. H&R BLOCK

H&R Block
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

The tax preparation company was founded by brothers Henry W. Bloch and Richard Bloch.

13 Incredible Facts About Frederick Douglass

Photo Illustration: Mental Floss. Douglass: Glasshouse Images, Alamy. Backgrounds: iStock
Photo Illustration: Mental Floss. Douglass: Glasshouse Images, Alamy. Backgrounds: iStock

The list of Frederick Douglass's accomplishments is astonishing—respected orator, famous writer, abolitionist, civil rights leader, presidential consultant—even more so when you consider that he was a former slave with no formal education. In honor of his 201st birthday, here are 13 incredible facts about the life of Frederick Douglass.

1. He bartered bread for knowledge.

Because Douglass was a slave, he wasn't allowed to learn to read or write. A wife of a Baltimore slave owner did teach him the alphabet when he was around 12, but she stopped after her husband interfered. Young Douglass took matters into his own hands, cleverly fitting in a reading lesson whenever he was on the street running errands for his owner. As he detailed in his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, he'd carry a book with him while out and about and trade small pieces of bread to the white kids in his neighborhood, asking them to help him learn to read the book in exchange.

2. He credited a schoolbook with shaping his views on human rights.

Engraving of Frederick Douglass, circa the 1850s.
Engraving of Frederick Douglass, circa the 1850s.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

During his youth, Douglass obtained a copy of The Columbian Orator, a collection of essays, dialogues, and speeches on a range of subjects, including slavery. Published in 1797, the Orator was required reading for most schoolchildren in the 1800s and featured 84 selections from authors like Cicero and Milton. Abraham Lincoln was also influenced by the collection when he was first starting in politics.

3. He taught other slaves to read.

While he was hired out to a farmer named William Freeland, a teenaged Douglass taught fellow slaves to read the New Testament—but a mob of locals soon broke up the classes. Undeterred, Douglas began the classes again, sometimes teaching as many as 40 people.

4. His first wife helped him escape from slavery.

Portrait of Anna Murray Douglass, Frederick Douglass's first wife.
First published in Rosetta Douglass Sprague's book My Mother As I Recall Her, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Anna Murray was an independent laundress in Baltimore and met Douglass at some point in the mid-1830s. Together they hatched a plan, and one night in 1838, Douglass took a northbound train clothed in a sailor's uniform procured by Anna, with money from her savings in his pocket alongside papers from a sailor friend. About 24 hours later, he arrived in Manhattan a free man. Anna soon joined him, and they married on September 15, 1838.

5. He called out his former owner.

In an 1848 open letter in the newspaper he owned and published, The North Star, Douglass wrote passionately about the evils of slavery to his former owner, Thomas Auld, saying "I am your fellow man, but not your slave." He also inquired after his family members who were still enslaved a decade after his escape.

6. He took his name from a poem.

He was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, but after escaping slavery, Douglass used assumed names to avoid detection. Arriving in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Douglass, then using the surname "Johnson," felt there were too many other Johnsons in the area to distinguish himself. He asked his host (ironically named Nathan Johnson) to suggest a new name, and Mr. Johnson came up with Douglas, a character in Sir Walter Scott's poem The Lady of the Lake.

7. He was deemed the 19th century's most photographed American.

Portrait of Frederick Douglass
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There are 160 separate portraits of Douglass, more than Abraham Lincoln or Walt Whitman, two other heroes of the 19th century. Douglass wrote extensively on the subject during the Civil War, calling photography a "democratic art" that could finally represent black people as humans rather than "things." He gave his portraits away at talks and lectures, hoping his image could change the common perceptions of black men.

8. He refused to celebrate Independence Day.

Douglass was well-known as a powerful orator, and his July 5, 1852 speech to a group of hundreds of abolitionists in Rochester, New York, is considered a masterwork. Entitled "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July," the speech ridiculed the audience for inviting a former slave to speak at a celebration of the country who enslaved him. "This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine," he famously said to those in attendance. "Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?" Douglass refused to celebrate the holiday until all slaves were emancipated and laws like the Compromise of 1850, which required citizens (including northerners) to return runaway slaves to their owners, were negated.

9. He recruited black soldiers for the Civil War.

The Union attack on Fort Wagner, Charleston, during the American Civil War. The fort was under attack from July 18 to September 7, 1863, by soldiers including the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first African-American regiment in the U.S. Army.
The Union attack on Fort Wagner, Charleston, during the American Civil War. The fort was under attack from July 18 to September 7, 1863, by soldiers including the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first African-American regiment in the U.S. Army.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Douglass was a famous abolitionist by the time the war began in 1861. He actively petitioned President Lincoln to allow black troops in the Union army, writing in his newspaper: "Let the slaves and free colored people be called into service, and formed into a liberating army, to march into the South and raise the banner of Emancipation among the slaves." After Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Douglass worked tirelessly to enlist black soldiers, and two of his sons would join the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, famous for its contributions in the brutal battle of Fort Wagner.

10. He served under five presidents.

Later in life, Douglass became more of a statesman, serving in highly appointed federal positions, including U.S. Marshal for D.C., Recorder of Deeds for D.C., and Minister Resident and Consul General to Haiti. Rutherford B. Hayes was the first to appoint Douglass to a position in 1877, and Presidents Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, and Benjamin Harrison each sought his counsel in various positions as well.

11. He was nominated for Vice President of the United States.

As part of the Equal Rights Party ticket in 1872, Douglass was nominated as a VP candidate, with Victoria Woodhull as the Presidential candidate. (Woodhull was the first-ever female presidential candidate, which is why Hillary Clinton was called "the first female presidential candidate from a major party" during the 2016 election.) However, the nomination was made without his consent, and Douglass never acknowledged it (and Woodhull's candidacy itself is controversial because she wouldn't have been old enough to be president on Inauguration Day). Also, though he was never a presidential candidate, he did receive one vote at each of two nomination conventions.

12. His second marriage caused controversy.

Frederick Douglass with Helen Pitts Douglass (seated, right) and her sister Eva Pitts (standing, center), circa the 1880s.
Frederick Douglass with Helen Pitts Douglass (seated, right) and her sister Eva Pitts (standing, center), circa the 1880s.

Two years after his first wife, Anna, died of a stroke in 1882, Douglass married Helen Pitts, a white abolitionist and feminist who was 20 years younger than him. Even though she was the daughter of an abolitionist, Pitts's family (which had ancestral ties directly to the Mayflower) disapproved and disowned her—showing just how taboo interracial marriage was at the time. The black community also questioned why their most prominent spokesperson chose to marry a white woman, regardless of her politics. But despite the public's and their families' reaction, the Douglasses had a happy marriage and were together until his death in 1895 of a heart attack.

13. After early success, his Narrative went out of print.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, his seminal autobiography, was heralded a success when it came out in 1845, with some estimating that 5000 copies sold in the first few months; the book was also popular in Ireland and Britain. But post-Civil War, as the country moved toward reconciliation and slave narratives fell out favor, the book went out of print. The first modern publication appeared in 1960—during another important era for the fight for civil rights. It is now available for free online.

This article originally ran in 2018.

The 15 Best Documentaries on Netflix Right Now

A still from Ava DuVernay's 13th (2016)
A still from Ava DuVernay's 13th (2016)
Netflix

Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it’s frequently more entertaining. Thanks to the Netflix acquisition team, the streaming service offers hundreds of documentaries that chronicle everything from riveting tales of true crime to stories about bare-knuckle fighters and custody battles over amputated legs. To help you sort through their formidable selection, we’ve selected 15 films currently streaming that will either make your jaw drop, bring a tear to your eye, or both.

1. Finders Keepers (2015)

If an appendage is removed from your body, are you still its lawful owner? That’s the question posed by this irreverent investigation of Shannon Whisnant, a junk trader who successfully bids on a storage locker and discovers the mummified remains of a severed leg. The stump once belonged to John Wood, a man injured in a plane crash. When his leg was amputated as a result, he decided to keep it as a memento, storing it in a grill inside the locker. The argument over who has rightful possession of this fleshy trophy is at the center of the film, which sees the men try to resolve their differences in a variety of ways, including an appearance on Judge Mathis.

2. Long Shot (2017)

Juan Catalan is that most compelling of true crime clichés: an innocent man being railroaded for a murder he didn’t commit. With law enforcement dismissing his alibi, his lawyers make a last-ditch effort to prove that Catalan was at a Los Angeles Dodgers game at the time of the assault. How they do that—and which famous comic actor plays a role—is best left to discover on your own.

3. Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee (2016)

Anti-virus software tycoon John McAfee was one of the internet’s biggest success stories. Flush with money, power, and a desire to reinvent himself, McAfee relocated to Belize, where his story began to take on echoes of Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. When all of McAfee’s whims are tended to by locals, questions over a neighbor’s murder take on sinister connotations. Michael Keaton is set to play McAfee in a feature film version.

4. Brother’s Keeper (1992)

The bonds of brotherhood are explored in this arresting feature about siblings Delbert, Roscoe, and Lyman Ward, farmers in upstate New York who close ranks when police begin to suspect one of them murdered their other brother, William.

5. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (2017)

When Jim Carrey stepped into the role of the late comedian Andy Kaufman for director Milos Forman’s 1999 biopic Man on the Moon, he didn’t so much imitate Kaufman as become him. That process was documented in behind-the-scenes footage that was buried in studio vaults for years and revealed here for the first time. Executives feared people would consider Carrey—who alternately charms and antagonizes people on the set by never behaving as “Jim”—as being exceptionally difficult to work with. Perhaps, but Carrey’s modern-day reflections on inhabiting the eccentric Kaufman even when the film cameras weren’t rolling are a fascinating study of both the performer’s commitment and the nature of identity.

6. Amanda Knox (2016)

College student Amanda Knox seized headlines in 2007 and beyond for being the prime suspect in the murder of fellow student and roommate Meredith Kercher while both were studying in Perugia, Italy. The competency and motives of Italian police are examined in this documentary, which features the first time Knox has spoken at length about her trials (yes, there was more than one) and struggles in a foreign justice system. Plenty of ink was spilled in the American media over her suspected guilt: Knox’s unflinching stare into the camera as she tells her side of the story will likely persuade you to think otherwise.

7. Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019)

Sun. Models. Booze. Would-be mogul Billy McFarland promised a lot and delivered little more than cold cheese sandwiches in his 2017 music festival debacle, which collected a small fortune in admission and ancillary profits and then wound up leaving hundreds of guests stranded on an island to fend for themselves. Pairing Netflix’s examination of the debacle and its fallout with Hulu’s Fyre Fraud makes for a fine double feature (even if you might be left with more questions than answers).

8. The Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2017)

Toy and nostalgia fans will get a kick out of this rewind to the early 1980s, when Mattel’s He-Man dominated retail stores and syndicated television. The feature examines the toy line’s origins—which involved dueling toy designers and a failed attempt to secure a Conan license—and its later incarnation as a low-budget 1987 movie. (Yes, Dolph Lundgren makes an appearance.)

9. 13th (2016)

Director Ava DuVernay delivers a powerful (and Oscar-nominated) indictment of the U.S. justice system and takes a closer look at how incarceration and sentencing feeds into widespread inequality. Peering through DuVernay’s lens, viewers may feel the scales of justice are tipped in favor of privatized and profiteering prisons.

10. Icarus (2017)

The cat-and-mouse game between drug testing agencies and cheating athletes is put under a microscope in director Bryan Fogel’s Oscar-winning documentary, which uncovers the lengths competitors will go to in order to push past their physical limits. As Fogel digs deeper into the world of pro cycling and its high-ranking political influences, you may discover that drugs are so pervasive that athletes aren’t necessarily looking to cheat—they’re simply looking to even the playing field.

11. Senna (2010)

Sports documentaries don’t come much better than this portrait of Ayrton Senna, a Brazilian Formula One racer who became a national hero for his obsessive commitment to being the best. That passion conflicts with the inherent danger of his sport, which undergoes a technological metamorphosis in the 1980s and 1990s that threatens the safety of drivers. Those risks are on display in the film’s kinetic, heart-in-throat race sequences.

12. The Seven Five (2014)

There are bad cops, there are dirty cops, and then there’s Mike Dowd, a Brooklyn officer who used his badge to siphon money from criminals and exploit the very community he was charged with protecting. Dowd’s downfall ushered in one of the biggest police corruption scandals of the 1990s. The film features Dowd’s unabashed account of his dirty deeds.

13. Voyeur (2017)

Acclaimed journalist Gay Talese stumbles upon what he thinks is the story of a lifetime: A Colorado motel owner named Gerald Foos who modified his guest rooms so he could spy on his occupants. Not all of Foos’s recollections of his voyeur’s playground hold up to scrutiny, and the film sometimes wonders who’s really in control of the narrative—the directors, Talese, or the enigmatic Foos.

14. The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)

In the 1970s, Kurt Russell’s father, Bing Russell, started a rogue minor league baseball team, the Portland Mavericks. Playing without any Major League affiliation, the ragtag team barnstormed their way through several seasons, with an electric group of MLB castoffs making up the roster. It’s a fun look at a group that rivals the Bad News Bears in dropping the ball.

15. Dawg Fight (2015)

Florida native Dhafir “Dada5000” Harris tries to keep gangs and drugs from destroying his neighborhood by hosting a series of bare-knuckle fighting events in his mother’s backyard. The action is raw, but Harris’s intentions are pure. In orchestrating violence rather than letting it explode on the streets, Harris provides an outlet for young men to find some peace.

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