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.
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