Posted by: episystechpubs | November 26, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Recursive Acronyms

I recently did an Editor’s Corner refresher on acronyms, and one of you dear readers asked if any of us had ever discussed recursive acronyms. I don’t recall doing anything on those, so it seems like now is a great time to talk about them.

A regular acronym is an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word, such as NASA (for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration). A recursive acronym is an acronym that uses its own name in the abbreviation. For example, BIRD, which stands for BIRD Internet Routing Daemon. You may ask yourself, “Why would someone do this?” According to an article in Wikipedia, a recursive acronym was invented to explain an “infinite series,” in a book titled Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.

Still wondering about this whole thing? When I saw that title with “Escher” in it, it suddenly made sense to me. The acronym using its own name in the abbreviation is like a mobius strip or an Escher drawing: it’s tough to find a beginning or an end in it. Maybe some pictures will help, or a few more examples?

A mobius strip:

And for more about M.C. Escher and recursion, here is a brief description from an article about him and some of his art:

“M.C. Escher occupies a unique spot among the most popular artists of the past century. While his contemporaries focused on breaking from traditional art and its emphasis on realism and beauty, Escher found his muse in symmetry and infinity. His attachment to geometric forms made him one of modernism’s most recognizable artists and his work remains as relevant as ever.”

And some additional recursive acronyms from the Wikipedia article:

  • ANX — ANX’s Not XNA
  • ATI — ATI Technologies Inc.
  • CAVE — CAVE Automatic Virtual Environment
  • FIJI — FIJI Is Just ImageJ
  • GNU — GNU’s Not Unix
  • JACK — JACK Audio Connection Kit
  • MIATA — MIATA is Always the Answer
  • PIP — PIP Installs Packages
  • XINU — Xinu Is Not Unix
  • ZWEI — ZWEI Was EINE Initially (“eins” and “zwei” are German for “one” and “two” respectively)

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services


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