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.

11 Memorable Facts About Cats the Musical

Mike Clarke/Getty Images
Mike Clarke/Getty Images

“It was better than Cats!” Decades after Andrew Lloyd Webber's famed musical opened on Broadway on October 7, 1982, this tongue-in-cheek idiom remains a part of our lexicon (thanks to Saturday Night Live). Although the feline extravaganza divided the critics, it won over audiences of all ages and became an industry juggernaut—one that single-handedly generated more than $3 billion for New York City's economy—and that was before it made a return to the Great White Way in 2016. In honor of Andrew Lloyd Webber's birthday on March 22, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

1. The work that Cats the musical is based on was originally going to include dogs.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, published in 1939, is a collection of feline-themed poems written by the great T. S. Eliot. A whimsical, lighthearted effort, the volume has been delighting cat fanciers for generations—and it could have become just as big of a hit with dog lovers, too. At first, Eliot envisioned the book as an assemblage of canine- and tabby-related poems. However, he came to believe that “dogs don’t seem to lend themselves to verse quite so well, collectively, as cats.” (Spoken like a true ailurophile.) According to his publisher, Eliot decided that “it would be improper to wrap [felines] up with dogs” and barely even mentioned them in the finished product.

For his part, Andrew Lloyd Webber has described his attitude towards cats as “quite neutral.” Still, the composer felt that Eliot’s rhymes could form the basis of a daring, West End-worthy soundtrack. It seemed like an irresistible challenge. “I wanted to set that exciting verse to music,” he explained. “When I [had] written with lyricists in the past … the lyrics have been written to the music. So I was intrigued to see whether I could write a complete piece the other way ‘round.”

2. "Memory" was inspired by a poem that T.S. Eliot never finished.

In 1980, Webber approached T.S. Eliot’s widow, Valerie, to ask for her blessing on the project. She not only said “yes,” but provided the songwriter with some helpful notes and letters that her husband had written about Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats—including a half-finished, eight-line poem called “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat.” Feeling that it was too melancholy for children, Eliot decided to omit the piece from Practical Cats. But the dramatic power of the poem made it irresistible for Webber and Trevor Nunn, the show’s original director. By combining lines from “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat” with those of another Eliot poem, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” they laid the foundation for what became the powerful ballad “Memory.” A smash hit within a smash hit, this showstopper has been covered by such icons as Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow.

3. Dame Judi Dench left the cast of Cats when her Achilles tendon snapped.

One of Britain’s most esteemed actresses, Dench was brought in to play Grizabella for Cats’s original run on the West End. Then, about three weeks into rehearsals, she was going through a scene with co-star Wayne Sleep (Mr. Mistoffelees) when disaster struck. “She went, ‘You kicked me!’” Sleep recalls in the above video. “And I said, ‘I didn’t, actually, are you alright?’” She wasn’t. Somehow, Dench had managed to tear her Achilles tendon. As a last-minute replacement, Elaine Paige of Evita fame was brought aboard. In an eerie coincidence, Paige had heard a recorded version of “Memory” on a local radio station less than 24 hours before she was asked to play Grizabella. Also, an actual black cat had crossed her path that day. Spooky.

4. To finance the show, Andrew Lloyd Webber ended up mortgaging his house.

Although Andrew Lloyd Webber had previously won great acclaim as one of the creative minds behind Jesus Christ Superstar and other hit shows, Cats had a hard time finding investors. According to choreographer Gillian Lynne, “[it] was very, very difficult to finance because everyone said ‘A show about cats? You must be raving mad.’” In fact, the musical fell so far short of its fundraising goals that Webber ended up taking out a second mortgage on his home to help get Cats the musical off the ground.

5. When Cats the musical came to Broadway, its venue got a huge makeover.

Cats made its West End debut on May 11, 1981. Seventeen months later, a Broadway production of the musical launched what was to become an 18-year run at the Winter Garden Theatre. But before the show could open, some major adjustments had to be made to the venue. Cats came with an enormous, sprawling set which was far too large for the theatre’s available performing space. To make some more room, the stage had to be expanded. Consequently, several rows of orchestra seats were removed, along with the Winter Garden’s proscenium arch. And that was just the beginning. For Grizabella’s climactic ascent into the Heaviside Layer on a giant, levitating tire, the crew installed a hydraulic lift in the orchestra pit and carved a massive hole through the auditorium ceiling. Finally, the theater’s walls were painted black to set the proper mood. After Cats closed in 2000, the original look of the Winter Garden was painstakingly restored—at a cost of $8 million.

6. Cats the musical set longevity records on both sides of the Atlantic.

The original London production took its final bow on May 11, 2002, exactly 21 years after the show had opened—which, at the time, made Cats the longest-running musical in the West End’s history. (It would lose that title to Les Miserables in 2006.) Across the pond, the show was performed at the Winter Garden for the 6138th time on June 19, 1997, putting Cats ahead of A Chorus Line as the longest-running show on Broadway. To celebrate, a massive outdoor celebration was held between 50th and 51st streets, complete with a laser light show and an exclusive after-party for Cats alums.

7. One theatergoer sued the show for $6 million.

Like Hair, Cats involves a lot of performer-audience interaction. See it live, and you might just spot a leotard-clad actor licking himself near your seat before the curtain goes up. In some productions, the character Rum Tum Tugger even rushes out into the crowd and finds an unsuspecting patron to dance with. At a Broadway performance on January 30, 1996, Tugger was played by stage veteran David Hibbard. That night, he singled out one Evelyn Amato as his would-be dance partner. Mildly put, she did not appreciate his antics. Alleging that Hibbard had gyrated his pelvis in her face, Amato sued the musical and its creative team for $6 million.

8. Thanks to Cats the musical, T.S. Eliot received a posthumous Tony.

Because most of the songs in Cats are almost verbatim recitations of Eliot’s poems, he’s regarded as its primary lyricist—even though he died in 1965, long before the show was conceived. Still, Eliot’s contributions earned him a 1983 Tony for Best Book of a Musical. A visibly moved Valerie Eliot took the stage to accept this prize on her late spouse’s behalf. “Tonight’s honor would have given my husband particular pleasure because he loved the theatre,” she told the crowd. Eliot also shared the Best Original Score Tony with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

9. The original Broadway production used more than 3000 pounds of yak hair.

Major productions of Cats use meticulously crafted yak hair wigs, which currently cost around $2300 apiece and can take 40 hours or more to produce. Adding to the expense is the fact that costumers can’t just recycle an old wig after some performer gets recast. “Each wig is made specifically for the actor,” explains wigmaker Hannah McGregor in the above video. Since people tend to have differently shaped heads, precise measurements are taken of every cast member’s skull before he or she is fitted with a new head of hair. “[Their wigs] have to fit them perfectly,” McGregor adds, “because of the amount of jumping and skipping they do as cats.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, over its 18-year run, the first Broadway production used 3247 pounds of yak hair. (In comparison, the heaviest actual yaks only weigh around 2200 pounds.)

10. A recent revival included hip hop.

In December 2014, Cats returned to the West End with an all-new cast and music. “The Rum Tum Tugger,” a popular Act I song, was reimagined as a hip hop number. “I’ve come to the conclusion, having read [Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats] again, that maybe Eliot was the inventor of rap,” Webber told the press.

11. Another revival featured an internet-famous feline for one night only.

On September 30, Grumpy Cat made her Broadway debut in Cats, briefly taking the stage with the cast. Despite being named Honorary Jellicle Cat, she hated every minute of it.

11 Words That Started Out As Spelling Mistakes

A woman sneezing, which in Middle English would have been called a fneze instead.
A woman sneezing, which in Middle English would have been called a fneze instead.
iStock.com/Dirima

The word irregardless might not be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying that if you were to use it in a sentence, you’d be perfectly understood—and that’s more than enough evidence for it to have been accepted into many dictionaries (albeit flagged as non-standard or informal), including Oxford Dictionaries, Merriam-Webster, and even the hallowed Oxford English Dictionary, which has so far been able to trace it back as far as 1912. So despite it having its origins in an error, and irregardless of what you might think of it, there’s no denying irregardless is indeed a word—and it’s by no means alone.

1. Expediate

Meaning “to hasten” or “to complete something promptly,” the verb expediate is thought to have been invented by accident in the early 1600s when the adjective form of expedite, meaning “ready for action” or “alert,” was misspelled in an essay by the English politician Sir Edwin Sandys (it was later corrected).

2. Culprit

There are several different accounts of the origin of culprit, but all of them seem to agree that the word was born out of a mistake. Back when French was still the language of the law in England in the Middle Ages (a hangover from the days of the Norman Conquest), the phrase Culpable, prest d’averrer nostre bille—literally “guilty, ready to prove our case”—was apparently the stock reply given by the Clerk of the Crown whenever a defendant gave a plea of not guilty. In the court records, this fairly long-winded phrase was often abbreviated just to cul. prit., and, as the Oxford English Dictionary explains, “by a fortuitous or ignorant running together of the two,” the word culprit was born.

3. Despatch

Despatch is a chiefly British English variant of dispatch, often used only in formal contexts like the name of the political despatch box in the House of Commons. The e spelling apparently began as a phonetic variation of the original I spelling, but after Samuel Johnson included it in his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, its use was legitimized and thrived in the 19th century. Because Johnson himself preferred the I spelling in his own writings, however, it's supposed that he included the e spelling by mistake and inadvertently popularized the error.

4. Nickname

Nicknames were originally called eke names, with the verb eke used here in the sense of “to make longer” or “to provide an addition.” Sometime in the 13th century, however, “an eke-name” was mistakenly interpreted as “a neke-name,” and the N permanently jumped across from the indefinite article an to the verb eke. The same error—known linguistically as “rebracketing” or “junctural metanalysis”—is responsible for nadders, numpires, and naprons all losing their initial Ns in the Middle English period.

5. Ammunition

Ammunition derives from a faulty division of the French la munition, which was incorrectly misheard as l'amonition by French soldiers in the Middle Ages, and it was this mistaken form that was borrowed into English in the 1600s.

6. Scandinavia

Scandinavia was originally called Scadinavia, without the first N, and is thought to take its name from an island, perhaps now part of the Swedish mainland, called Scadia. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the extra N was added in error by the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, and has remained in place ever since.

7. Syllabus

If all had gone to plan in the history of the word syllabus, those two Ls should really be Ts: Syllabus was coined as a Latin misreading of an Ancient Greek word, sittybos, meaning “a table of contents.”

8. Sneeze

Oddly, sneeze was spelled with an F and not an S, fneze, in Middle English, which gives weight to the theory that it was probably originally coined onomatopoeically. At least one explanation of why the letter changed suggests that this F inadvertently became an S sometime in the 15th century due to continual misreadings of the long lowercase f as the old-fashioned long S character, ſ.

9. Ptarmigan

The ptarmigan is a bird of the grouse family, found in mountainous and high-latitude environments. Its bizarre name with its initial silent P is something of a mystery, as the original Scots word from which it derives, tarmachan, shows no evidence of it and there’s little reason why one should ever have to have been added to it—except, of course, if it were a mistake. The P spelling first emerged in the late 1600s, and is thought to have been a mistaken or misguided attempt to ally the name to the Greek word for a wing, pteron, and eventually this unusual P spelling replaced the original one.

10. Sherry

Sherry takes its name from the southern Spanish port of Xeres (now Jerez de la Frontera in Cádiz) and was originally known as vino de Xeres, or “wine of Xeres.” This name then morphed into sherris when sherry first began to be talked about in English in the early 17th century, but because of that final S, it didn’t take long for that to be misinterpreted as a plural. Ultimately, a mistaken singular form, sherry, emerged entirely by mistake in the early 1600s.

11. Pea

Another word that developed from a plural-that-actually-wasn’t is pea. One pea was known as a pease in Middle English, but because of that final “s” sound, pease was quickly misinterpreted as a plural, giving rise to a misguided singular form, pea, in the 17th century. The actual plural of pease in Middle English, incidentally, was pesen.

This list first ran in 2016.

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