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OCHIENG: Acronym comes from first letters of full words


In Summary

In an article on a Kenyan “hero” in Greece, the Sunday Nation explained that his organisation Bama “ … is an acronym of the first four letters of the four villages where it operates: Barokwiri, Achuodho, Magombe and Abida …” But that is simply untrue. What the first four letters of those words spell out is not 'Bama' but 'Baroachumagoabid'.

Second, by my count, the four names have only one acronym. Yet we are told that Bama is only “an acronym” (not the acronym) of those names. The indefinite article “a” implies that those names have other acronyms. But that is impossible because the word “acronym” means the initials — the first one letter of each word of a several-worded term.

I need hardly remind any child that each word has only one initial.

That is the third problem. If Bama is “an acronym of the first … letters” of the four names, it means that “the first letters” — the initials — have their own “acronym”.

In other words, Bama is an “acronym of an acronym,” or Bama stands for “the first letters of the first letters” of those names.

Let him understand who can!

No, an acronym does not merely stand for the first letters: It is the first letters. It stands for the full words. It is an abbreviation of them. Kanu is the acronym of the Kenya African National Union. Kanu does not merely stand for the first letters of that term: It is their first letters.

Concerning acronym, the Hellenes gave the name myronymos (originally muronumos) to the Pelasgic creator Goddess Athena.

Muro, the first two syllables, come from the Greek murias (“ten thousand”), from which we get our word myriad, “an indefinitely large number”.

The latter two syllables, numos (later nymos) simply mean “name” or, in grammar, “noun”. Going into Latin as nymus, it is what has given us the English element nym in such words as acronym, synonym and antonym.

A synonym is, literally, a “name-with,” that is to say, a name (or noun or, indeed, any word) which shares a meaning with another. The syn part of it comes from the Greek sun or sum, which carries the idea of sharing.

Synergy (sunergos) literally means “shared vigour”. In physics, an erg is a measure of energy or “work”.

A symposium (sumposion) is literally a “shared drink”. It comes from an old intellectual habit — common in the Rive Gauche, Paris, till recently — of meeting at a pub to discuss some academic topic “over a drink”.

To synchronise is to “share a movement”, to move in tandem, from sunkhronos, “shared time”. Sympathy (sumpathos or sumpathes) is a “shared feeling” or “shared suffering”.

A syndrome (sundrom) is a running together of symptoms (sumptoma, a series of chance occurrences).

For its part, an antonym (Greek antionoma) is a “name-against” another, a word which means the opposite of the other.

Mr Ochieng’ is a veteran journalist.