10 Words That Started Life as Acronyms

And are still in popular use today

Photo by James Sloan on Unsplash

1. CAPTCHA — Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart

Phew! No wonder they wanted an acronym for this one.

2. GESTAPO — Geheime Staatspolizei

The Nazi’s — another acronym - created their own Secret State Police, the Gestapo, in 1933.

3. GIF — Graphics interchange format

Love them or hate them, GIF’s are here to stay. They were created in 1987 by American computer scientist Steve Wilhite.

4. GULAG — Glavnoye Upravleniye Ispravitelno-trudovykh Lagerey.

Gulags were a system of forced labour camps created in Russia in 1919 and used to brutal effect by Joseph Stalin to subdue the population. The words translate as the Chief Administration of Corrective Labour Camps.

5. NIMBY — Not In My Back Yard

Nimbyism often refers to the unwelcome attempts to site projects within a community.

6. RADAR/ SONAR — Radio Detection and Ranging/ Sound Navigation and Ranging

Two navigation and detection systems used to find objects that are far away or not in sight. They were developed and perfected in the 1930’s and 40’s.

7. SCUBA — Self-contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus

Pretty self-explanatory and if you’ve ever been lucky enough to go diving you probably already knew this one.

Photo by Sebastian Pena Lambarri on Unsplash


That fiddly little thing that you have inside your phone? It’s your subscriber identification module card.

9. SMART CAR — Swatch Mercedes Art

You know those weird cars that are so small they can park frontways against the pavement? Well, turns out there was more to the brand name than simply coining the right adjective for your product.

10. TASER — Thomas A Swift Electric Rifle

Jack Cover wanted to create a non-lethal device that could be used in situations like an airplane hijack. In the 1970's, after witnessing a hiker survive a collision with an electric fence, he invented a device that would deliver a paralysing electric shock.


Okay, you spotted it. I’m cheating a little here because I couldn’t possibly leave this one off the list. It’s in the Oxford English Dictionary which qualifies it, right?

Writer, poet, outdoors instructor and Mother of Teenagers. I rewild kids for a living.

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