Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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This morning I was having a conversation with Leila about the word “phat” which she informed me stood for “pretty hot and tempting.” Surprised, I turned to the internet, specifically Snopes (I think someone needs to come up with a term for the feeling you get when you just know you’ll find something in Snopes and turn out to be right).

According to the site, phat is an example of a “backronym”: “Phrases constructed after the fact which are attached to existing words and presented as those words’ sources.” I just sort of love the word and idea, which apparently came from a competition held by the Washington Post:

Meredith Williams, in an entry to a competition in The Washington Post on 8 November 1983, seems to have coined bacronym, as a portmanteau of back and acronym. Previously, lexicographer Ben Zimmer tells me, the form was called, somewhat cumbersomely, a prefabricated acronym as well as a reverse acronym. The word was popularised in July 1994 by another contest, in New Scientist, though it was then said to be a reinterpreted acronym, neither the original nor the current principal sense.

Some serious etymology for a Saturday morning.

October 15, 2011