CBDRILONCWRC IS NOT AN ACRONYM! It’s gobbledygook, or at least an initialism that looks like gobbledygook. But it’s CBDRILONCWRC that inspired “Meet the Acronym That Just Might Save the World,” an article by Robinson Meyer that arrived this morning in my Mother Jones email newsletter. And it comes with a sub-title: “It’s 12 letters long. Good luck pronouncing it.” 1
Um, sorry, but if you can’t pronounce it, it’s almost certainly not an acronym. The whole point of an acronym is pronounceabilty: taking a bunch of gobbledygook that takes too long to say and reducing it to one simple word. A pronounceable word.
Thank Grommett I didn’t have to post a comment correcting the writer, as several others had beaten me to the punch. But I am getting ahead of myself. Here is the opening statement of Meyer’s article:
“The United Nations climate-change negotiations do not hide from acronym. No, they sprint toward it, arms stretched, yelling ‘Take me!’ Spend some time reading technical press coverage and you’re sure to encounter IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).
Stay a little longer and you’ll hit LDC (Least Developed Countries) and SIDS (Small Island Developing States). Even COP21 of the UNFCCC, the event’s name, embraces acronym: It’s the 21st Conference Of the Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.” 2
Okay, so first things first: just like CBDRILONCWRC, neither PICC nor LDC are acronyms—they are initialisms. SIDS can be considered an acronym along the lines of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Hell’s Belles, COP21 can be considered an awkward acronym, but UNFCCC cannot. 3
The February 1979 issue of Oui magazine carried a blurb on the front cover for “A Furshlugginer Interview With Mad’s William Gaines.” Everything Mad can be fairly associated with Bill Gaines, but the use (or misuse) of such appropriated terms as furshlugginer and potrzebie were almost certainly the doing of editor Harvey Kurtzman.
What difference does it make?
So, back to CBDRILONCWRC: it stands for Common But Differentiated Responsibility In Light Of National Circumstances With Respective Capability. It references the UN’s pathetic attempt to limit carbon emissions globally. 4
Finally, the Big Question: What the hell is an acronym? How is it different than an abbreviation? I found the best definition in The Free Dictionary, where they give the following for correct usage:
• “In strict usage, the term acronym refers to a word made from the initial letters or parts of other words, such as sonar from so(und) na(vigation and)r(anging). The distinguishing feature of an acronym is that it is pronounced as if it were a single word, in the manner of NATO and NASA. Acronyms are often distinguished from initialisms like FBI and NIH, whose individual letters are pronounced as separate syllables.”
• An abbreviation is “a shortened form of a word or phrase used chiefly in writing to represent the complete form (e.g., Mass. for Massachusetts or USMC for United States Marine Corps).”
• An initialism is “an abbreviation consisting of the first letter or letters of words in a phrase (e.g., IRS for Internal Revenue Service), syllables or components of a word (e.g., TNT for trinitrotoluene), or a combination of words and syllables and pronounced by spelling out the letters one by one rather than as a solid word (e.g., ESP for extra-sensory perception).”
A rule-of-thumb thing here: all acronyms are forms of abbreviation and initialism, but all abbreviations and initialisms are NOT acronyms.
To en his, I will coin a new acronym: LUGTOW, pronounced as it looks, lug-tow. And it means:
HEADER IMAGE: Harvey Kurtzman in his heyday as creator/editor/writer of EC’s Mad, a 10¢ four-color comic book before it was turned into a 25¢ black & white magazine. Aside from popularizing such almost nonsensical words as furshlugginer (Yiddish) and poterzebie (Polish), he practically wrote the book on what was humorous for the Baby Boomer generation. Much has been written of Harvey and I have nothing to add except that I met him at the EC Fan Addict Convention in 1972 and he was delightful, friendly, and flirtatious with my girlfriend in a manner that made her comfortable in a largely male environment.
1 About the title of this post: the correct pronunciation of furshlugginer is fur-shluh-guy’-nur with the second syllable pronounced like slush and the accent on the third syllable. But that’s for pedantic grammarpussies! Real grammarmen say fur-shloog’-eh-nur, with the second syllable accented and rhyming with shook. So, if you’re in a furshugginer way, you can think of yourself as being all shooged up. The word furshlugginer “comes from the German word shlogn, which means ‘to hit,’ and the prefix ‘far-,’ which indicates a self-referencial (sic) quality. It was popularized in MAD Magazine in the 1950s. It can be used to describe anything that you don’t trust or understand. “What the hell is that furshlugginer thing?” (Yiddish Slang Dictionary)
2 Meyer’s article originally appeared in The Atlantic, whose editors should know a helluvalot better! I am not doing any further research on the author and I am going to run with an assumption: Mr Meyer is a reasonably youngish man! I say this as he is far from the first person under, let’s say, fortysomething with an education that did not teach the difference between a mere abbreviation and the more interesting acronym.
3 Of course, is those plucky United Nations folk pronounce it as unfuck—then it qualifies. (Of course, it then changes the way that I use the word; e.g., “My ex has is so in denial about the pleasure that she had in the years of carnal bliss we knew together that she might as well have unfucked me a few thousand times.” But that’s another story …)
4 If I were forced to give CBDRILONCWRC a pronunciation, I see it as cab-drill-onk-wreck. Robinson offers cabdriloncwerck, which is similar but his final syllable makes more sense than mine.