I started out today to write about…..well, I won’t say what, but I got side-tracked by abbreviations and acronyms - words created by combining the first letter or syllable of , each word in a phrase to create a new, single word, such as NASA, (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration).

So what happened to BC? I found that BC (which always stood for ‘Before Christ’), has now been replaced by ‘BCE’. The Britannica Dictionary definition of BCE is ‘Before the Christian Era’ or ‘Before the Common Era’ — referring to the years that came before the birth of Jesus Christ. BCE is now often used instead of BC, especially in scientific writing.

So what about AD? - AD is for the Latin phrase: Anno Domini, which was for the years after the birth of Jesus Christ. This is now CE, which stands for ‘Common Era.’ It refers to the same years as AD does - for example, the year 2023 CE is the same year as 2023 AD.

Confused? Yeah, me too – why change something everyone understands? But it was changed for a seriously good reason, as a not everyone in the world is Christian, so it’s a nod to religious equality for non-Christian groups.

There are plenty of commonly used abbreviations that perhaps our parents wouldn’t have had a clue about, and if I am honest, I don’t know half of them. Here are a few from a great list of them.

CPU – Central Processing Unit – essentially the brains of a computer. A computer's central processing unit is the portion of a computer that retrieves and executes instructions. The CPU is essentially the brain of a CAD system too (Here’s one I had to look up). It stands for Computer-Aided Design and is the use of computer-based software to aid in design processes.

GPS - Ah, here’s one I know, Global Positioning System. What I didn’t know is that it is American owned and operated, and provides users with PNT (yet another one I had to look up) - Positioning, Navigation and Timing. The GPS system consists of three segments: the space segment, the control segment, and the user segment.

ATC – Air Traffic Control. I know this one too. Navigation aid for airplanes so they don’t crash into each other. Each country has its own ATC organisation that controls air traffic on an IFR plan (here I go again, looking it up) - Instrument Flight Rules. And guess what - ATC operations are conducted mostly in English or the language used by the station on the ground being flown over, but English must be used if requested.

CPR – commonly known as an essential first-aid procedure - Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation - mouth-to-mouth and chest compression. But CPR also means Changed Product Rule –which was so confusing I haven’t got the space here to give an uncomplicated explanation!

Then there are the more commonly used ones – TGIF (Thank God it’s Friday), ASAP (As Soon As Possible), RSVP (this has French roots, Répondez s'il vous plaît, literally meaning ‘Respond, if you please’).

One we use without maybe knowing what it means is AM/PM, meaning morning/afternoon, with the abbreviation being from the Latin ‘ante meridiem’ and ‘post meridiem’ - meaning before noon and afternoon. How about SCUBA? Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. LASER? Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. RADAR? Radio Detecting and Ranging.

A whole new meaning for SMART - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound (commonly used when setting goals). How clever.

Here’s one I didn’t know – TASER – it stands for Tom A. Swift Electric Rifle. A NASA researcher, Jack Cover, began developing the first Taser in 1969, and by 1974, he had completed the device, which he named TASER, using a loose acronym of the title of the book ‘Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle’, Tom Swift being a fictional childhood hero from a favourite book of his, who invents a rifle that delivers both bolts of electricity and light beams.

But my favourite – BOGOFBuy One Get One Free. To me, it sounds like a replacement naughty word, as in: ‘Bogof and leave me alone!’


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan