Are Backronym and Acronym same? I don't understand the difference between these two terms.

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    Backronym is a portmanteau of backward and acronym.
    – Eric
    Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 15:58
  • So radar is a palindracronym, not a backronym?
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 0:40
  • @SvenYargs It's a flipnym of lapal.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 19:39

3 Answers 3


An acronym is a word formed by the initial letters of other words, such as Nato (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation). Note that this is different to an initialism where the initial letters are spelled out, as in BBC for example.

A backronym is where the word comes first, and the initial letters are made to fit the word. An example is Alex the parrot (Wikipedia) who to date is the only non-human to spontaneously use language and throws doubt on the notion that a large brain is a prerequisite for language. The name Alex was subsequently said to be 'Avian Language Experiment", which then became 'Avian Learning Experiment. As this was decided (or at least stated) after naming the bird, it is a backronym.

Another example would be the USA PATRIOT Act, where :

The title of the act is a ten-letter backronym (USA PATRIOT) that stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001


  • Good explanation Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 12:51
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    Occasionally, an acronym can be a backronym. For example, the programming language PHP used to stand for “Personal Home Page”. When it began to be used professionally, it was officially rename “PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor” (a recursive backronym)
    – Madlozoz
    Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 23:11
  • @Madlozoz and what's the difference between a backronym and a recursive acronym? It looks like it is the same. I also heard of the term "reverse acronym", it is the same also?
    – baptx
    Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 14:37
  • @baptx recursive here meaning it's self-referential - in this case because the first P in PHP now stands for PHP.
    – Andrew
    Commented Nov 10, 2021 at 16:59

A backronym (Backward acronym or blend of back and acronym) is a term for a word which has been turned into an acronym by inventing an expansion, rather than the other way around. An example given by Wikipedia involves a backronym invented by NASA (itself an acronym - a word formed from initial letters of words and pronounced as a word - for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration):

NASA named its ISS treadmill the Combined Operational Load-Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT) after Stephen Colbert. The backronym was a lighthearted compromise in recognition of the comedian's ability to sway NASA's online vote for the naming of an ISS module.

The word backronym was the brainchild of Meredith G. Williams, the winner of the November 1983 edition of the Washington Post monthly neologism contest according to WordSpy.

Backronyms are often used for humorous effect as in the example above (COLBERT), but they are also quite commonly used unintentionally. Other backronyms include

ZIP code: "Zone Improvement Plan" (used to speed up mail processing)
DARE - Drug Abuse Resistance Education
MADD _ Mothers Against Drunk Drivers

humorous/sarcastic backronyms:

Microsoft’s Bing: "Because It’s Not Google"
Ford: "Found On Roadside, Dead"
Delta: "Don't Ever Leave The Airport" or "Don't Expect Luggage To Arrive"

Common acronyms include NASA, NATO, laser, radar, modem, ASAP, etc.

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    I would only call something a "backronym" if the name is actually used as a name prior to the invention of the expansion. I would suggest that most expanded acronyms contain words that were at least partially chosen for purposes of "fitting" a pronounceable word; only if the short name was chosen without regard for the longer expansion would the term "backronym" be applicable.
    – supercat
    Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 23:17

A "backronym" is a "backward" acronym. It is a word or expression that is formed from an already existing word. An example is "SAD" = (Seasonal Affective Disorder). So, yes, they are different.

  • Oh. I thought acronym of SAD is Seasonal Affective Disorder. google.co.in/… Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 7:20
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    This is simply wrong. If you invent Randolph's Amazing Trapeze and decide to call it the Rat, that's an acronym, even though the word "rat" already exists. If you invent a device called the Rat and then later decide that it stands for "Randolph's amazing trapeze", that's a backronym. Commented Nov 29, 2014 at 0:15

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