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Acronyms and backronyms

By Tom Chatfield  

Do you know what an OVNI is? Even if you speak excellent French, you may not, unless I spell it out as an Object Volant Non Identifié: an Unidentified Flying Object, or UFO to those of us in the English-speaking world. And what, again, is a BD (pronounced bay-day)? It stands for bande dessinée—a comic strip, which in English has nothing to do with acronyms.

Acronyms in other languages resist translation because they put us at a double remove from meaning. To understand them, you need to know that they reference both something in the “real” world and something in…

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