Wednesday, February 4, 2015

acronyms old and new

I was reading a thriller, written by a Foreign Service Officer and portraying an FSO as the hero. Set in a conflict in Africa, the young diplomat is working with the UN military mission deemed the UN Special African Force, or UNSAF. That force has cobbled together some airplanes for transport and supply, which of course is called UNSAF airlines. The joke comes when you think how everybody pronounces that acronym -- and wonders about its reliability.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld overnight banned the use of the acronym CINC [commander-in-chief, pronounced "sink"] by the regional military commanders on the grounds that only the President is commander-in-chief. Technically true, but nobody wants to label the President CINCUS.

The Pentagon probably has more acronyms than Marines. And sometimes it catches embarrassing ones a little too late. Remember that for several days the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was called Operation Iraqi Liberation, until someone pointed out the acronym and it was changed to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The classic acronym story comes from 1933 when FDR wanted to call his new agency to help farmers the Agricultural Stabilization Service. Aides pointed out the acronym, and the name was changed to Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, although conservation was a small afterthought.

Congress is no slouch when it comes to acronyms either. Remember the USA PATRIOT Act? The Senate has a committee named Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. And the nasty House investigative committee is OGR ["ogre" -- Oversight and Government Reform].

On the other hand, isn't it clever that, when the Weather Bureau was renamed, it was called NOAA?

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