The Top Ten: Backronyms

From the USA Patriot Act and Gross to Spectre and Start...

John Rentoul
Sunday 13 March 2016 00:53 GMT
Ash: Action on Smoking and Health, the anti-smoking campaign group
Ash: Action on Smoking and Health, the anti-smoking campaign group (Getty Images)

This list was inspired by a post on the Oxford Dictionaries blog, Oxford Words. It traced the word backronym to a 1983 letter from Meredith G Williams in 'The Washington Post', which defined it as 'the same as an acronym, except that the words were chosen to fit the letters'

1. USA Patriot Act

Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, signed after 9/11. From Josh Blacker.

2. Gross

Get Rid Of Slimy girlS. The exclusive club whose only members are Calvin and Hobbes.

3. Twain

Unofficial backronym for Technology Without An Interesting Name has stuck for software interfaces with scanners and cameras. Arieh Kovler's favourite.

4. Ash

Action on Smoking and Health, the anti-smoking campaign group, lit up by Darren Sugg.

5. Fatah

Dominant Palestinian faction since 1967. A reverse acronym of Harakat al-Tahrir al-Filistiniya, fatah means "conquering". Thanks to James Vaughan.

6. Cobra

Cabinet Office Briefing Room A. There is no briefing room B, but it sounds more exciting than COBR, which is what stuffier civil servants call it. Mal Simon is charmed.

7. Cabal

An old word for secret group, derived from Hebrew Kabbalah, and applied to Charles II's ministers Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley and Lauderdale. From Chris Jones.

8. Posh

From early 20th-century slang for a dandy, and not an acronym for Port Out, Starboard Home, the good side of ships to and from India. Thanks to Arieh Kovler and Market House Books.

9. Spectre

Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. Are the last two reversed for the US market?

10. Start

Strategic Arms Reduction Talks or Treaty (1991). Also, Salt, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (Salt I Treaty, 1972). Cold war nuclear negotiations from Mr Memory.

Coming soon on the Independent website: Films in which the pitch must have been the title (such as 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies'). Send your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, to

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