Friday, August 20, 2010

Avoidable Acronym

You've all seen it: a new or prospective radio amateur joins a web forum and posts: "I'm looking for advice on how to get started in HAM radio." HAM is not an acronym. What do they think it stands for? I consulted the Acronym Finder and could find nothing remotely relevant.

Having been in computing for more years than I care to remember, I know that the avoidable acronym is not a new invention. The one that really used to bug me is HELP, as in "Software includes full online HELP." For goodness sake! Help is a word, not an acronym. I don't think it was meant as a cry for assistance: HEEELLLPPP!!!! though I have come across a few programs where that would be appropriate.

Another example is FAX. Again, I can't think of three words it could be an acronym for. It's short for facsimile, so it's just fax.

And ham is short for amateur, so capitalization is not required. There are many suggestions as to why amateur radio became known as ham radio. No-one really knows. Some say it has the same origins as "ham actor", though that's a pejorative term for an actor who overacts and generally isn't very good. Others suggest it comes from British English. Cockneys (working class Londoners) drop the leading H from words like "hurry" or "have", so they would often insert it in front of words where it doesn't belong when trying to "speak posh." Hence "amateur" would become "hamateur" and then "ham".

Who knows? But whatever the origin, ham certainly isn't an acronym.


Anonymous said...

When I was first licensed in the UK in the late 1970's, I don't remember the word "ham" being used that much. The hobby was referred to more commonly as amateur radio and to this day, I much prefer calling it that. When I moved to the US in the late 80's I noticed the term "ham" was in more common use. Is it commonly used in the UK today Julian?

I agree with you on the issue of ham not being an acronym but I feel as if I'm fighting a losing battle with all things spelling and grammar anyway. How many people write sentences such as "I could of done that" or "To insure that things go well..."

Aaaah, the English language is a beautiful thing.....when treated with respect (as I shake my head and sigh).

Unknown said...

I agree, the battle for spelling and grammar has been lost and the English language will eventually become an evolution of text message-ese, designed for efficient input into miniscule keyboards (so all lower-case for a start.)

In the UK the term "ham radio" was deprecated in the '70s and '80s, because amateurs were self-conscious and a bit offended by the image of them created by Tony Hancock in his famous "Radio Ham" episode. In the US of course there used to be a magazine called "Ham Radio" and they had never heard of Tony Hancock so they were a lot less stuffy about it.

People are a lot more relaxed about it over here now. It has been years since someone wrote to RadCom about it. I guess they have plenty more things to complain about now, like the abolition of the morse test...