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Those Poor Orphaned Letters

July 25, 2019

The English language is a constantly evolving beast with lots of rules and quirks. For example, “orphan initialisms,” which are acronyms that stand for…nothing.

MTV. The channel that started off as “Music Television” hasn’t had a music video-schedule in decades, so it kind of makes sense that “MTV” is the network’s actual name, and the “M” doesn’t stand for anything. 

KFC. Kentucky Fried Chicken went national in the 1960s, when a company name with “fried chicken” in it promised a homestyle meal. By the 1990s, the general health consensus was that fried foods, while delicious and homey, were unhealthy. Kentucky Fried Chicken officially became KFC to erase that certain F-word from its name.

IBM. International Business Machines was truly international, introducing a lot of technology to companies around the world. It even helped popularize computers. The firm became so successful that it had to change its name from International Business Machines to just plain IBM. The reason: It saved them the trouble of translating “International Business Machines” into dozens of other languages.

AMC. Around 2006, American Movie Classics started airing non-movie programming — such as hour-long series. Wanting a name to reflect that but not lose its branding, the channel renamed itself AMC. Just AMC.

TLC. The Learning Channel used to broadcast educational TV shows and academic documentaries. Today, it’s a haven for reality fare like Dr. Pimple Popper and 90 Day Fiancé. There’s not much “learning” going on, in other words, but the channel made sure to abbreviate its official name to a simple, meaningless TLC when it changed its programming.

ACT. Along with the SAT (or Scholastic Aptitude Test), the ACT is one of the country’s standard standardized college entrance exams. ACT once stood for “American College Test,” but its administrators changed its name to ACT Assessment (in which the “ACT” means nothing).

WWE. Once known as the WWF — short for World Wrestling Federation — the most famous pro wrestling organization changed its name to WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) about 20 years ago after a trademark dispute with the World Wildlife Fund (or, WWF). Today the league is known simply as WWE, Inc.

DVD. The dying video format had one too many “full” names, and, in the end, it wound up with none. The companies that developed the technology couldn’t decide whether to name it “digital video disc” or “digital versatile disc,” but since both phrases form the same acronym, just the acronym was used.

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