Now, the VOA Learning English program, Words and Their Stories.
Different people have different ways of saying things – their own specialexpressions. Each week we tell about some popular Americanexpressions.
What you are listening to is a call for help. It is the Morse code distresssignal S.O.S. For years, telegraph operators used Morse code tocommunicate across the country and around the world.
A skilled operator could send and receive 30 or 40 words a minute. In thelanguage of Morse code, the letter “S” is three short dots and the letter “O” is three longer dashes. Put them together and you have S.O.S.
These sounds represent the international call for help because they areeasy to recognize. Now, it is simply known as S.O.S.
The short video above was cut from an official United States Army instructional video.
But many people think that S.O.S. stands for “Save Our Ship” or “Save OurSouls.” It does not. S.O.S. has come to mean that because of how we use it – when we need to be saved, as when a ship is sinking.
S.O.S. is an example of a new, if somewhat unofficial, word in the Englishlanguage. We call it a backronym. A backronym is a combination of twowords: backward and acronym.
An acronym is an abbreviation, a shorter version of a long word orexpression. For example, the word “scuba” is an acronym. It stands for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus. But scuba is so much easier tosay!
Backronyms, on the other hand, are built in the opposite way. They aremade by creating a phrase or expression for an already existing word oracronym.
For example, the United States Department of Justice recently gave newmeaning to its Amber Alert program. Now, Amber officially stands for "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.” But the programwas originally named for Amber Hagerman, a nine-year-old girl who waskidnapped and murdered in Texas in 1996.
Sometimes, backronyms come from outdated language. Writing “CC” at theend of a document once meant "carbon copy.” Before computers and email,people would often make a carbon copy of a letter they sent on officialbusiness. These days we often send electronic copies of letters by email, not carbon copies. So, “CC” is now a backronym that means “courtesycopy”
Americans often use backronyms as jokes. For example, NASA, the U.S.space agency, named a treadmill on the International Space Station afterthe television personality Stephen Colbert. The agency created the name“Combined Operational Load-Bearing External Resistance Treadmill” tospell out the name COLBERT.
Who says scientists lack a sense of humor?
Do not worry if you have never heard of backronyms. Many Americans havenot either. The earliest known use of "backronym" appeared in TheWashington Post in 1983.
The newspaper asked readers to send in a new word. Editors pickedMeredith G. Williams as the winner with her word, “backronym,” spelled withor without a “k.” She defined backronym, as the "same as an acronym,except that the words were chosen to fit the letters."
And that brings us to the end of this Words and Their Stories program.
I’m Anna Matteo.
Hmmm, “ANNA” could be a backronym for “Another Newscaster NamedAnna.”