[Neal Whitman (visiting from agoraphilia.blogspot.com), June 23, 2004 at 11:36pm] Trackbacks
Almost-Recursive Acronyms

There've been a number of posts about acronyms recently on some of the blogs I read. One was from me, one from Glen, and one from the guy at Semantic Compositions. This last one reminded me of a letter to the editor I wrote some 15 years ago. The post is about recursive acronyms, the cited example being GNU, which expands to "GNU's not Unix." One of the letters in a recursive acronym (theoretically any one of them, but always the first one in the examples I've seen) stands for the acronym itself, leading to an infinite loop when one tries to expand out the acronym. As I read the post, I thought back to my freshman year at the University of Texas at Austin... ah, yes... I remember it as if it were a segment on Letterman...

I was reading in the campus newspaper about a newly formed student organization that called itself QUEERS. That's QUEERS, not Queers. It was an acronym. I was curious what the acronym could stand for, since there aren't that many words beginning with Q, and probably even fewer that would be relevant. What could it be? Quest? Quintessential? I read on. QUEERS, as it turned out, stood for "Queers United Envisioning an Egalitarian Restructuring of Society."

At first I was just disappointed. That was it? The elusive first word of QUEERS was just queers? That wasn't very clever at all. Then I began to be alarmed. You see, I had just read Douglas Hofstadter's Goedel, Escher, Bach, which had introduced me to the concept of a recursive acronym in the name of a genie in one chapter-opening vignette. The genie's name was GOD, which stood for "GOD Over Djinn." When asked to grant a meta-wish for an infinite number of ordinary wishes to be granted, GOD had to initiate an infinite recursion to all the GODs above him to get the required permission for such a wish. This QUEERS organization was flirting dangerously with infinite recursion! The only thing that saved them was the wise decision to have Q stand for Queers, and not for QUEERS.

I wrote a letter to that effect, and was pleasantly surprised to see it printed a week or so later. Returning to the present, though, I wonder how many other almost-recursive acronyms like QUEERS are out there. I found one on this page, though it was listed as a true recursive acronym: Cygnus, standing for "Cygnus, Your GNU Support." This acronym might escape from infinite recursion since Cygnus has a meaning other than the company with this name--specifically, a constellation. However, since Cygnus the company probably doesn't mean for the C to stand for a constellation, I guess this might be a truly recursive acronym after all. (I will give Cygnus credit for one thing: They are not guilty of acronym-stacking! More on that later.) So at this point, QUEERS stands alone in my list of almost-recursive acronyms. Additions to the list are welcomed.