The example I am thinking of is GNU, which stands for "GNU's not unix".

It may be that there are no other examples. And maybe that's the whole joke. I was just wondering.

  • 3
    It is also jokingly said that in "Benoît B. Mandelbrot", the "B" stands for "Benoît B. Mandelbrot".
    – user9212
    May 27, 2011 at 12:54
  • Possible duplicate of Terms for duplicated words
    – Robusto
    Oct 5, 2015 at 13:46
  • 1
    Recursive acronym?
    – Mitch
    Oct 5, 2015 at 16:05
  • There are plenty of other examples. One such is "MUNG", which stands for "MUNG until no good".
    – Hellion
    Oct 6, 2015 at 15:55

2 Answers 2


It's usually called a recursive acronym. It draws, by its very nature (and geekiness), a certain fondness from computer hobbyists and is thus heavily used in naming software packages, programming concepts or algorithms. There are, however, some non-technical examples (drawn from the Wikipedia page linked above):

  • IRIS, for Iris Recognition Immigration System
  • Visa, for Visa International Service Association

Also of note: “GNU Hurd” is a mutually recursive acronym, where “Hurd” stands for “Hird of Unix-Replacing Daemons”, and “Hird” stands for “Hurd of Interfaces Representing Depth”.

  • 1
    Strictly speaking, recursive acronyms are only a subset of what the OP asked for. An acronym may spell out a component word without being recursive, as this wildly made-up example proves: NEWS (News editing work space)
    – blubb
    May 27, 2011 at 14:05
  • @Simon - the first example that @F'x gave, "IRIS", falls into that same category - it's a database of biometric information, mainly iris scans.
    – MT_Head
    May 27, 2011 at 15:52

They're called "recursive acronyms":

A hackish (and especially MIT) tradition is to choose acronyms/abbreviations that refer humorously to themselves or to other acronyms/abbreviations. The classic examples were two MIT editors called EINE ("EINE Is Not EMACS") and ZWEI ("ZWEI Was EINE Initially"). More recently, there is a Scheme compiler called LIAR (Liar Imitates Apply Recursively), and GNU (q.v., sense 1) stands for "GNU's Not Unix!" -- and a company with the name Cygnus, which expands to "Cygnus, Your GNU Support" (though Cygnus people say this is a backronym).

For more examples, read DR Hofstadter's "Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid" - that's where I first heard of them, and many other wonders of language/math/science/art/computers/music as well.

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