When words were words, and acronyms knew their place

Peter Jackson
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Rhonda, a hairstylist, notes that the Back Street Boys and New Kids on the Block have joined forces. Their new group abbreviation is NKOTBSB, which would suggest the combined name is New Kids on the Back Street Boys.


"That just doesn't sound right, if you know what I mean," says Rhonda.

I do know what she means. It sounds like they're sharing more than just songs.

Mind you, the not-so-young lads don't follow the abbreviation to the letter - or letters. Written out, the full name is New Kids on the Block and Back Street Boys, which just makes it more confusing. Why isn't it NKOTBBSB, or even NKOTB&BSB? There's already a surfeit of letters; one more wouldn't hurt.

It's a puzzler. But odd abbreviations are not unique to latter-day boy band mergers. It got me thinking of similarly mysterious acronyms.

Take the IODE, for example. If you don't know already, it stands for Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire.

But you won't find that deliberately spelled out in their literature, even though it's one of the frequently asked questions on their website. Here's the response:

"Q: What do the letters IODE stand for?

"A: The letters stand for our historical roots, but our focus is on women dedicated to a better Canada."

I kid you not. Talk about dodging the question.

Here's a thought: if you're sheepish about your imperialist roots, why not change the name? It would make so much sense.

These people are in need of some serious marketing skills. Your business or organization (or singing group) should have a simple, approachable name, devoid of cryptic abbreviations. Don't confuse people.

Simple, right?

Well, not according to the World Association of Newspapers (WAN-IFRA).

I've tangled with this group before. They just don't get it.

IFRA must stand for the French equivalent of WAN, right? Or Spanish or German or Swahili, perhaps.

Well, it doesn't. If you check out the website (wan-ifra.org), there isn't even a hint what IFRA stands for. Go ahead. Click the "About Us" link. You won't find it.

Eventually, I had to Google IFRA to see what it stands for. As it turns out, it stands for a number of things: International Fragrance Association, Independent Footwear Retailers Association, International Furniture Rental Association and the International Federation of Rowing Associations.

It also stands for a curious group called the Inca-Fiej Research Association, which sounds like anthropologists studying South American and Pacific tribes.

Little did I know I'd hit paydirt.

What confused me is that Fiej and Inca were not words, as such, but acronyms in themselves. Acronyms within acronyms - what a wondrous world we live in!

Inca stands for International Newspaper Colour Association, and Fiej is short for Fédération Internationale des Editeurs de Journaux.

IFRA actually has its own website.

That website does mention the historic merging of WAN and the acronym-infested IFRA, though it doesn't say when it happened.

It would appear these sub- organizations were reluctant to sacrifice their names, so they buried them in confusing layers of acronyms.

Then they tried to disassociate the abbreviations from the words that created them.

I contend that such an abbreviation has no right to exist. It's an affront to etymology, and especially irksome coming from an organization that supposedly represents wordsmiths of the world.

"Today, the name 'IFRA' stands by itself," chirp the good folks running the ifra.com site. Not on my watch, it doesn't.

As for our famous boy band conglomerate, the lads need to get another B.

Either that, or get a room.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram's commentary editor. Email: pjackson@thetelegram.com.


Organizations: Back Street Boys, World Association of Newspapers, International Fragrance Association Independent Footwear Retailers Association International Furniture Rental Association International Federation of Rowing Associations Inca-Fiej Research Association International Newspaper Colour Association

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • David
    July 13, 2011 - 10:42

    Newscasters (especially the CBC) are becoming absolutely unintelligible. In their desperate attempt to connect with younger viewers, they have abandoned the English language and the viewers who use it to communicate. It will be eventually be their world, and I look forward to the continuing entertainment value of this "sitcom"....(yes, I know)!

  • JT
    July 13, 2011 - 09:45


  • Scott Free
    July 13, 2011 - 09:23

    Notice to all; I'm the founding member of the SGBBQBDNG (Straight Guy BarBeQue Beer Drinking Neighbourhood Gang) and I'm hosting the first annual walk around my shed on my own private property parade all weekend long; LOL. If you're not affiliated with any special lobby or community group or a member of either of the political parties, and you have no beef with anyone nor require pampering or, attention seeking; come join me for some fun and refreshments. We'll laugh and poke fun at one another, tell a few off color jokes, eat and drink more than we should and have a great time; harm no-one, intrude on no-one's rights; get no message across and enjoy ourselves; insult no-one; protest nothing; demand nothing and respect all walks of society. Geez, sounds like most neighbourhood shed parties on just about any street; no need for special attention, media, by-laws, permits, or any kind of legalities. oh, BTW, BYOB.

  • Edward
    July 13, 2011 - 06:51

    The worst practitioners of this acronym abuse are provincial and federal governments who routinely advertise EOI's, RFP's and the like from departments and agencies such as TW, INTRD and ACOA. Perhaps they do not want everyone to know what they are up to?