Phat [was Re: gay/ghey/ghay]

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Thu Jun 3 00:07:26 UTC 2004

> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
> Of Baker, John
> Sent: Wednesday, June 02, 2004 6:26 AM
> Subject: Re: Phat [was Re: gay/ghey/ghay]

>         I don't really want to be in the position of defending an
> acronymic origin of "phat(t)."  However, what do you make of
> "snafu," which is known to have an acronymic origin?  (Can anyone
> think of any other nontechnical terms - not initialisms like
> "TGIF" -  that have acronymic origins?)
> John Baker

Thanks for the complete citation of "pumpernickel." I missed Barry's earlier
email. I hope that when the OED3 gets around to P, they will include the
full quote in the citation. It's important given the popularity of the
Nichol story.

As to "snafu," there are two possible, and non mutually exclusive,
explanations. One is that it is simply an exception. It would be equally
astonishing if there were *no* non-technical words with acronymic origins.
But the point is that they are vanishingly rare. Given this, skepticism must
be applied to any non-technical acronymic word origin. An acronymic origin
for "phat(t)" is possible, but highly unlikely.

The other explanation is that "snafu," and its less well-known variants like
"tarfu," arose in the military--an environment given to coining technical
acronyms. In fact, the number of "snafu" variants that have come out of WWII
point to the conclusion that the coinages were a joke about the army's
penchant for acronyms.

--Dave Wilton
  dave at

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