Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Unfortunate Acronym

First of all, this is not an attempt at being politically correct. I'm not criticising anything or asking for something to change. It is just that I find it a bit "amusing" some time, and wonder if anyone else spotted it, especially those who came up with it.

Often people come up with very cute acronym for many things. I can think of WIMP and MACHO, etc. in physics. These are catchy acronym that many people, including the general public, catch on. However, sometime, they come up with rather unfortunate acronym. I came across this one several years ago, and somehow, after reading an article this morning, it popped up again. The acronym is "FFAG", for Fixed-Field Alternating Gradient accelerator. I'm sure that most people reading this can guess what is unfortunate about this acronym (remove one of the "F"s and it becomes a short form of a derogatory word).

Of course, the first thing that came to mind is if the people who came up with the acronym actually realized this. The second thing that came to mind is on how this acronym is pronounced. Usually, acronym that can form a "name" that can be pronounced is usually refered to by that pronounciation. One would refer to WIMP as "wimp", not "W - I - M - P". So do people refer to "FFAG" as "F - F - A - G" or "F-fag"? I don't know about you, but I would feel rather uncomfortable to say the latter, even if nothing bad is intended.

I haven't had the opportunity yet to be in the circle of people that actually discussed this subject area yet, so I'm a bit curious on their view on this, or how they go about mentioning this word. Of course, I certainly wouldn't discount the fact that most of the people who do use this acronym aren't even aware of this angle, especially since there are many non-native English speakers involved in this field of study and the social/cultural connotation involved in that word doesn't mean anything to them.

Have you come across any similar acronym in physics/science that has the same unfortunate connotation?



David said...

Naming of things in physics is a much overlooked part of the process but vital to the communication exercise. Scientists could probably get a lot more funding for their work if they named things better, I'd suggest. We had a piece about this topic in symmetry back in its early days. http://www.symmetrymagazine.org/cms/?pid=1000087

Kent Leung said...

Haha that is rather funny. I am sure who ever thought it up did not know about the derogatory-side to the word. I doubt that it is in any standard dictionary.

I work at the Institute Laue-Langevin who's acronym is "ILL" (usually pronounced I-L-L ). There were talks of getting some merchandise made but someone joked that walking around with "ILL" on your hat might induce strange looks & make people avoid you.