Catching-up With All Kinds Of Acronyms

Take that as my mea culpa, if you will, for, if you are a regular traveller on this train, you must have observed that LOP has been on AWOL since August – specifically, August 16, 2009.


Without bothering to relate why LOP has been Away Without Leave, let’s quickly move on to say that a lot of water has passed under the bridge called Nigeria over the past four months, and that the handiest and most effective linguistic device that we can find for catching-up on all that has happened is: the acronym. It will not cost us anything to be reminded about what the acronym actually is.

For want of a better term, the acronym belongs to what we may call a troika of summit words, which we hereby define as, words that are made up of the topmost letters or parts of other words.

If you are like the student who, during the man’s reign, gave IBB as an example of an acronym, you would be mistaking the acronym for another of its stable mates, the abbreviation. The third member of the troika of summit words is the acrostic.

Abbreviations, acronyms, and acrostics are stable mates, but they are different linguistic creatures. Perhaps the easiest way to differentiate them is to go by the way that they are pronounced. Whereas the abbreviation is pronounced letter by letter, as in IBB, PDP, or EFCC, the acronym and the acrostic have their letters pronounced together as a word, as in INEC, SAP, or GOWON. Abbreviations do not spell out a word, whereas, acronyms and acrostics do spell out a word.

To underscore that difference, still, let me take you to Nostalgia Avenue by asking you to compare IBB, SAP, and GOWON. How can you ever forget the link between the first two, historically!

For some people, besides the annulment of the 1993 presidential elections, the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) is a defining achievement of Nigeria’s one and only military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, alias, IBB.

If you listen to what you are reading, you can hear each letter in I.B.B., as you pronounce the abbreviation. But that is not the case with SAP and GOWON, whose letters are pronounced together as single words.

In case you are wondering about it, GOWON is an acronym, or, as some may argue, an acrostic, which was the major weapon in the arsenal of the propaganda machinery of the Federal Government of Nigeria during the Nigerian Civil War: it stands for Go On With One Nigeria.

Nostalgic as they may be, the two versions of SAP serve to illustrate one of the basic types of acronym. So, before we get down to the business of the day proper, let us have an instructive lowdown on this phenomenal linguistic creature that is on parade today.

Generally speaking, there are three types of acronym – “a word formed from the first (or first few) letters of a series of words.” The three types are verbal, phrasal, and sentential.

Verbal acronyms come in two forms. The first form, which is the most common, is the one that is made up of key words that work together as a compound or consolidated noun. IBB’s SAP is an example of the consolidated verbal acronym. The first two words combine to modify the third to form a single locution.

The second form of verbal acronym is that in which the key words are not combined, but stand and work alone. The penultimate piece before LOP went on AWOL was titled, “Our Leaders Are SICC.” The letters of the acronym here stand for Sick, Irresponsible, Callous, and Corrupt. The four key words that constitute SICC are separate; hence, it is an example of the singular verbal acronym.

Whereas phrasal acronyms comprise words that make partial sense, since they include neither a subject nor predicate, sentential acronyms comprise words that make complete sense, and include a subject and predicate. AWOL – Away Without Leave – is an example of a phrasal acronym.


YOU may not know it, but some years after IBB had left the stage, SAP was transmogrified and took on the image of the greatest beneficiary of that annulment, General Sani Abacha. During Abacha’s reign, some urchins, for reasons best known to them, changed SAP from Structural Adjustment Programme to: Search Abacha’s Pocket! If you search it properly, you will find a subject and predicate in the transmogrified version of SAP – Search Abacha’s Pocket. Hence, it is an example of a sentential acronym, in the same category with GOWON. Sentential acronyms are mini acrostics, of sorts.

To round off our lowdown on acronyms, let us note that acronyms, like words as a whole, represent certain phenomena. They may represent acts/actions/activities, entities, events, policies, principles, functions, characteristics, mottos, etc. So, SAP is a policy, that is, an action plan of a government of the day; SICC a characteristic of a set of people; and AWOL is an action of an individual.

Since I went on AWOL, several major events have taken place in our country. As we shall try to make you see, it’s so easy catching up on these events, courtesy of acronyms. And that’s because, if these events do not have one or two acronyms as their part and parcel, we can wring one or two acronyms from them.

The first major event during the hiatus was the passing away of that legal luminary who was a beacon on our shores. “GANI FAWEHINMI PASSES ON AT 71” was the headline of the lead story in the Vanguard of September 5, 2009. To put it in the language that is second nature to the people of PEZON, “For Nigeria, SAN be like sand-sand, but SAM na only one.”

Responding online to that story, one reader, Nurudeen Magaji, wrote: “Gani is so passionate about Nigeria… A completely detribalized Nigerian, a champion of the downtrodden, a voice of the voiceless. The one and only SENIOR ADVOCATE OF THE MASSES.”

Both SAM, Senior Advocate of the Masses, and SAN, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, are, of course, two acronyms that are part and parcel of the profession to which Gani belonged.

When I asked Misan, my bosom friend and alter ego, whether he could divine an acronym in memory of the man, he replied instantly: “You bet I can! Considering all that he devoted his life to, the name Gani is a veritable acronym of itself. I say that because Gani is a patriot who fought for the good of all Nigerians, impartially.”

When I responded by saying, “I don’t get it,” Misan was beside himself, as he said demurely: “Come off it, my friend, you of all people? What do you mean you can’t get it? I just told you that the man fought for the good of all Nigerians, impartially. Can’t you see the acronym right there? Okay, let me package it for you, then”

Leaning over my shoulder, Misan wrote down the series of words on four lines, capitalizing their letters like this: Good of All Nigerians, Impartially. “That’s GANI for you!” he said with utter relish.

I could not but concur. Abashedly, I said: “You win! But, Misan, can you tell me what kind of acronym GANI is?”

Instinctively, he switched into PEZON mode, as he regaled: “Hmm, AU, you want try me? Of course, from all the lectures you’ve been giving me since you were bitten by this your bug of acronym, I will be a dingbat if I didn’t know the kind of acronym GANI is. Like AWOL, it is a phrasal acronym.”

Can you tell whether Misan is right or wrong? Not to worry, this business of catching up with acronyms on the language train has just started. That’s to say it’s an unfinished business.

Coming up, next: SOWROW, RUIN, BAD, SAD, COP, PAIN, and what have you! Catch the train as it tries to catch up on the banking saga, the amnesty saga, and, you don’t say, the Jeddah saga, featuring UMYA!

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