Vocabulary Bleg

Okay, this is driving me nuts.

A joint venture between Russia’s Gazpom and Nigeria’s NNPC resulted in a company named “Nigaz.” [h/t Instapundit] They got into this trouble due to the Russian style of making acronyms using the  syllables of words instead of the first letter. This style was very popular in socialist movements prior to WWII, which is were we got Nazi, Gestopo and Checka. This style remain popular in formally communist countries and in Asia whose ideographic languages do not lend themselves to initialisms e.g. the Pokemon children’s game comes from the romanized Japanese POket MONster. 

This style of acronym has a specific name but I can’t remember it and I find it in any online or offline reference. This will bug me  all day!

If you know the word I’m am looking for pitch in and save my sanity!

[Update: Wikipedia suggest either a “portmanteau word”  or “syllabic abbreviation” but I can’t shake the feeling that their is a specific word with latin or greek roots. *Sigh*]

31 thoughts on “Vocabulary Bleg”

  1. I am not sure the trend is that clearly pronounced as you make it cound.

    Abbreviation by syllables, rather than first letters, was/is dictated by necessity: the government has grown so much, and so many branches has similar-sounding names, using the same words in their title (like “organization’, “committee”, “alliance”, “center”, “ministry”, “plant”), as well as neutered-of-its-original-meaning adjectives (like “democratic”, educational”, “people’s”), that means of distinction were/are needed. For example, if two different automobile truck plants’ names were abbreviated by first letters, they would be sounding (and written) the same (KamAZ and KrAZ), while in reality there are thousand miles apart, besides manufacturing different product.

    Besides, you’re mistaken about Cheka: it’s an example of abbreviation by first letters (Ch & K: Чрезвычайная Комиссия, “Emergency Committee”), not by syllables. Ch is a separate letter in Russian alphabet and when pronounced separately, is called Che; Ka is how the letter “k” is called when reciting the alphabet (much in the same fashion as letters in Greek alphabet, f.e.)
    Same thing – about NKVD, GRU, KGB, etc etc – all are examples of first-letter abbreviations; probably because there was no danger that the names of these organizations were mistaken for some other.

    Your anti-Russian bias shows again.

  2. The best I can find is ‘syllabic acronym’, with many useful Google hits. Other examples are ‘modem’, ‘Komsomol’ (allegedly — I don’t know Russian), and ‘NoVaCoCo’, for Northern Virginia Community College — easier to say than En-Vee-See-See. The word acronym is etymologically ambiguous: just as ‘acrostic’ means ‘end of line’, ‘acronym’ means ‘end of word’, but doesn’t say which end and whether to use only a single letter at whichever end of the line or a whole syllable.

  3. Hmm, “modem” and “novacoco” must be invented by camouflaged Russians. Or other members of “socialist movements prior to WWII”, hiding since in underground cells somewhere in the rural woods of USA.

    Dr. Weevil: Komsomol is correct; it’s an abbreviation of three words.

  4. Tatyana,

    Your anti-Russian bias shows again.

    And apparently my deep and abiding hatred of Japan as well since I pointed out that syllabic acronyms are common there as well. :-P

    I just noted that such acronyms were popular with socialist in the past and that they remain in countries like Russia with a communist past. I fail to see how that is anti-Russian anymore than pointing out that countries with a long history of being Greek orthodox have a higher occurrence of onion dome cathedrals. Really, you have a bad habit of reading negative comments into subjects were none is intended or implied. If anything, my comment could be read as a defense of modern Russians. Without a knowledge of that history, a naive reader might assume that the Russians went out of their way to be racially offensive.

    Here’s some reference I googled to show the historic pattern:

    Sasha Volokh

    Revolutionary Naming Conventions

    Soviet Abbreviations

  5. Merriam-Webster: “a word (as NATO, radar, or laser) formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive parts or major parts of a compound term.” (My emphasis)

    We do it in English fairly often, too. Examples include COBOL, the DelMarVa peninsula, TriBeCa, and SoHo (NY, not London).

  6. naive reader might assume that the Russians went out of their way to be racially offensive.
    What? While it is true that Russians are far less subscribing to PC-speak than contemporary Americans (decades of parsing official “international friendship of Peoples” doublespeak trained them well), you can be assured that nobody has in mind African-Americans or their perceived beef with White Americans while naming businesses in Russia. The word even sounds differently in Russian language. Let alone the meaning is absolutely has nothing to do with Americans. Ni is from “Nigeria”, and Gaz is a word on its own, means “natural gas”, and is an usual addition in names of numerous companies of the industry. Typically the word is composed of 1)geographical pointer and 2)the word “gaz” to indicate the industry. Nothing more sinister than that. What disappointment, I know.

    Thanks for your attempt to educate me with regards to Soviet abbreviations. Not needed; have a first-hand knowledge, you know.

    It’s not my bad habit, Shannon. You’re doing it again: trying to shift the topic to discussing my personal quirks of character. I wasn’t the one writing your post for you, it’s your quirks on display, not mine.

    Your prejudice is sitting so deep, Shannon you don’t notice it; you might not intend offense, it appears on its own. Russians are root of all evil with you; never mind not-quite correct association of “Russians” with “Soviets” and bizarre interchangebility in your posts.

    Blaming every thing that you don’t like on “communist past” shows regrettable simplicity on your part. Let me bring to your attention the fact that abbreviations were popular in Russia way before establishment a Soviet State or even October Socialist Revolution. See, f.ex, names of political parties after February Revolution – KaDets (Constitutional Democrats; one famous member was Nabokov Senior -I trust you heard this name). At the same time there existed other parties, EsDeks and EsErs, consecutively Social-Democrats and Social-Revolutionaries. Abbreviating came to vogue in Russia during First World War, in connection with military matters. I have not researched the subject, but it very well might be that the same happened to other countries who participated in the WWI.

  7. Russians went out of their way to be racially offensive

    There is something else that might have contributed to your confusion.
    The stress in all bi-and triple-constructions with GAZ in it is usually on last syllable, i.e. “gaz”. As in Nig’Az, not ‘Nigaz.

    You have transplanted English grammatical form onto Russian; it’s in English names the stress is usually on the first syllable. There is no such rule in Russian.

  8. Not sure if there is a definitive category for words that use more than initial letters in an abbreviated form, but the difference between an acronym and initials is the acronym is pronounced according to its spelling: Unicef, for example, as opposed to UNHRC, whose letters are pronounced individually.

  9. There is something really wrong about this topic and the problem, I’m afraid lies on these shores, not with the Russians. For years certain people I encountered thought I was in the airport supply business because Lufthansa and TAROM collaborated on meal services under the title LUfthansa TArom Services or LUTAS. It was slightly annoying. I got over it. Americans need to get over NIGAZ too. The US has bigger problems. We might as well reopen the niggardly kerfuffle and ignore more important topics if this is going to pop up.

    Russia is not “in trouble” and neither is Gazprom. They have a naming convention for these sorts of joint ventures. It ends up sounding funny in another language. These things happen, as the poor fellow who first tried to sell the Chevy Nova (no va = don’t go in spanish) in latin america could tell you.

    The Nigerians are not up on their US ‘hood’ speak but they’re the guys who have english as an official language so if anybody made a goof it’s the nigerians who negotiated the deal. But we’re not talking about Nigeria. We’re talking about Russia. This makes no sense to me. Before you get to the communist history of Russia and all the rest, answer me this. Why are we not talking about Nigeria? Why Russia?

    Tatyana – If Russia has any blame whatsoever it is that they have been hoist on their own petard for this problem due to American guilt over slavery, a guilt that was encouraged and exaggerated by many outside forces including the psychological operations people in the KGB. The crushing guilt leads to various forms of poor behavior on the part of people ensnared in it including predominantly blaming the white guy when there is a white/black team that makes what is perceived to be an error. so I’d put it at maybe 1% Russia’s fault.


  10. “…naive reader might assume that the Russians went out of their way to be racially offensive.
    What? … you can be assured that nobody has in mind African-Americans or their perceived beef with White Americans while naming businesses in Russia. … Nothing more sinister than that. What disappointment, I know.”

    Guess somebody missed that whole “NAIVE READER” thing. Surely no one here qualifies, or self-identifies anyway.

  11. Somebody didn’t missed that. But that somebody had to rack her brains for 10 minutes to even understand what the heck it means and where this bizarre notion came from. The rest of Russia will never do…unless they are some weirdo disproportionally interested in American inner-cities slang to utter neglect of their own considerable worries of the moment.

    Even the invention of such naive reader could have never come to a Russian-speaking person, only to an American obsessed with their own hang-ups.

  12. Tatyana,

    You’re doing it again: trying to shift the topic to discussing my personal quirks of character.

    That’s because you’re doing it again i.e. interjecting some bizarre claim about my bias or disdain about some group about which I said nothing. Seriously, reread the parent. What in it is anti-Russian as it is read literally? To see some kind anti-Russian bias in the post you would have to fill in a lot space between the lines with your own biases and assumption about me.

    Look at it from my perspective. I personally thought it was obvious that the Russians and Nigerians intended no disrespect and that the people who thought otherwise were being ethnocentric and silly. I just wanted to try and remember what the specific term was for the type of acronym. The information about their use by socialist and asians was just intended to prod peoples memories because that is the context in which I thought I had read the term in the past. Then suddenly you claim I have anti-Russian bias. From my perspective you are clearly acting on some unwarranted presupposition about myself. I mean, you don’t seem to believe I have an anti-asian bias even though using the same reasoning and motivation you project on me, it would seem that I should.

    Blaming every thing that you don’t like on “communist past” shows regrettable simplicity on your part.

    I don’t. In fact, I subscribe to the school of thought wherein culture trumps ideology in the long run. However, I stand by my assertion that this style of acronyms were very popular during the pre-WWII socialist movements everywhere. Now, it could well be that they were popular because they were a Russian style that the Soviets used and that other socialist copied them. Whatever the history it is irrelevant to fact that the contractions were widely used by socialist and I had hoped that that fact would jog people’s memories.

    Russians are root of all evil with you;…

    Again, I find this simply a bizarre statement wholly unsupported by fact. I think the communist have been the root of all evil for most of the 20th century and Soviets were the most dangerous communist. I was very happy and optimistic about Russian in the 90’s and really looked forward to the benefits to the whole of humanity if Russian became a modern, liberal-democracy with a largely free-market economy. Sadly, that did not materialize as fully as I had hoped and now Russian appears to be controlled by a bunch of ex-communist oligarchs. I think these are merely facts and does not constitute some irrational bias against Russians as a people. I mean, I hate Nazis but I don’t hate Germans. I hate the Iranian mullahs but I don’t hate Iranians etc.

    Again, I wasn’t poking fun at Gazpom in my post. When I read the story I said to myself, “Oh, they just accidently created a word that silly people would claim to find offensive because of their long history of using syllabic contractions. Wait. What is the actual name of of that type of contraction? Damn, I can’t find it online! I’ll do a post asking if anyone remembers the word and I’ll toss in examples of the use and history of the term to try and provoke the readers recall.”

    Then you pop up and accuse me of anti-Russian bias and of seeing Russia as the “root of all evil” which provokes from me, and I suspect anyone else reading this, a hearty WTF?

  13. Shannon, your post had provoked a hearty WTF from me – and for a solid reason. It would provoke triple that from any Russian living in Russia.
    I have explained why pretty extensively; I will not repeat myself. You persist in not wanting to understand it – that’s your problem.

    Another mistake you make is to tell me the whole story of your opinion on communism, Russia and her history, along with half of the world. Too much info, tks.

    Hope somebody help you in your philological quest.

  14. Tatyana, I think you need to review the concept of “bias”.

    An American certainly can have an anti-American bias.

    Your statement implies that a Russian-speaking person could never be “obsessed with their own hang-ups” as you say. That is bias.

    Also, such a “naive reader” doesn’t have to be invented. See here. I will add that I see no reason to suspect that such stupidity is confined to the people living on any particular continent or speaking any particular language.

  15. Laura, Russians most definitely have their own hang-ups (that’s a gross understatement if ever been one). Nobody is exempt. But you talk in possibilities (who could and what their bias might be), and I pointed to an actual one that I saw. If I didn’t know a meaning of an English word, I’d look it up in a dictionary – believe me, I’m familiar with the concept.

    I can even give you a mirror example of stupid public paranoia. In Stalin pre-WWII times there was a popular activity: people were searching for hidden patterns and pictures that might have been coded messages to so-called ‘foreign spies’. Like looking at a newspaper against the light and “recognizing” watermarked portrait of a guy that might be Trotsky (Stalin’s enemy num.1). Or finding children’s “secret treasures” – few pieces of fabric, flower petals or colored glass, buried in a small shallow hole – and announcing it “supply of clues left for future use by a Japanese spy”. A popular story (it’s not a myth) about а corrector in a provincial newspaper who got shipped to Kolyma because he missed one typo in a reportage about Stalin’s visit to a regional city; one wrong letter that changed a meaning of a word from “exactly” to “shit”. It sounds absolutely crazy – but actual breathing living people were arrested on this flimsy “evidence” and nobody ever saw them again.

    So when I see the same sort of stories, only on this side of the oceans, I have a very uneasy sort of de ja vu. You think it can’t happen here? Look at who is now a President of the United States of America. It can.

  16. Tatyana,

    Shannon, your post had provoked a hearty WTF from me – and for a solid reason. It would provoke triple that from any Russian living in Russia.

    Well, apparently, based on your argument, Russians are culturally program to see ill-will were none existed. You certainly would not be the first to claim that Russian tend toward paranoid explanations.

    Here’s the thing. You are absolutely wrong. There is no room for discussion, you’re just wrong. I know you are absolutely wrong because I have a piece of information you lack: I know what the hell I was thinking when I wrote the damn post! I didn’t read that story and think, “Heh, here’s a chance to get a dig against Russians (whom I regard as the root of all evil) in a manner so subtle that only the brilliant and insightful Tatyana will see it! Bwaaaahaaahaaaa!”

    Since I know what I intended to convey when I wrote the article, I know with absolute certainty that you have misperceived what I wrote. Since you see something sinister in something I wrote without malice, the malice logically comes from you not me.

    You’re trying to convince me that I am thinking something that I am not thinking. How can you conceivable hope to win that argument? How to you hope to convince me that I don’t know my own mind?

    This is far from the first time that you have decided to play mind reader with me and to claim that I am thinking something which I am not.When I tell you that I didn’t intend any ill will towards Russians (or anyone else) why don’t you believe me? Do you think I get some kind of sick thrill out of teasing you personally? I hate to break it to you but your just not important enough to me to risk my integrity in that fashion.

    I’m sympathetic to cultural misunderstandings but on the other hand I don’t feel obliged (and indeed am not practically able) to examine my post for every possible misunderstanding from the culture of every possible reader. I have even less of an understanding of how various Nigerian ethnic groups would view my post than I do of Russians. You as a reader also have a responsibility to not assume that a writer shares your cultural assumptions. Just as a matter of common courtesy, you should assume good will on the part of others.

    To that I would had for your information that I am a Texan and I don’t do subtle. When I intend to insult you or piss you off you will damn will know it.

    I’ll tell you what, in the interest of cultural understanding, you rewrite the parent so that it is no longer a sinister conspiracy against all things Russian and I will append it to the parent so that future Russian readers won’t be morally outraged at my cultural insensitivity.

  17. Shannon, nowhere I said you’re teasing me personally. Nor do I feel offended on behalf of Russians or communists (I’m neither), as you seem to think.

    I’m simply noticing cultural prejudices.

    I do believe you didn’t write your “parent”, as you say, with conscious goal to pock fun of Russians or Japanese (although I’d leave that latter part to the Japanese to decide). But is it noticeable that the first example for a linguistic term you were looking for, the first negative thing that came to your mind is associated with Russians.
    First you say it’s a Russian style, then you add it was very popular in socialistic movements prior to WWII. Then you add 2 examples of words that are not Russian, and one Russian that is abbreviated by first letters, not syllables (as I explained above). So your own examples do not support your assumption. It didn’t come to your mind that the vogue of abbreviations might have spread from Germany before and during WWI – or maybe even originated in America, which was held in highest regard in pre-war Russia as a model of progress and efficiency, from industry to language.

    Glad to hear you’re not subtle – me either. Maybe you should teach Ginny the craft to speak to the point and directly to a person she means in her back-handed remarks. Ginny: maybe you should follow your own advice first. Ask your therapist about getting rid of passive-aggressiveness: not a healthy trait in an elderly person. Some might say it make you sound like a mean old woman.

    I have to add: I had misunderstood you in one aspect: I thought “Russians went out of their way to be racially offensive” sentence is your own invention. Lazy, I know – didn’t read the link you provided. Now I see who the “naive reader” might be. So – apologies about that; my bad.

    I wouldn’t post more comments on this tangent to the original topic after my first, if you and a couple of other people didn’t persist on adding more negative remarks, that led to even further, more obscure tangents – but centered around MY supposed inadequacy. In the meanwhile in this thread people who stayed on topic all confirmed by their comment, more or less, what I was saying, too – that abbreviation, by syllables or by first letters, is not specifically Russian or socialist invention.

    Nice talk, Shannon – and on a day like this.

  18. The military does this, too. Radar, Satcom, Defcon, Sigint . . .

    I actually prefer it quite a lot as a way of creating acronyms, and wish the computer industry did it. Some things, like RAM, are easy to say. But I would find CentProc a lot easier to say than CPU and certainly more evocative.

    I wonder if the computer industry’s habit has to do with making things easy to type rather than easy to say? Just speculation.

    I’d never heard a specific word for it, though. In fact, just the opposite: I’d always heard that Radar was an acronym.

  19. I quite like NIGAZ as it could be part of a Russian play on words: ni gaz ni voda (ни газ ни вода), which would remind us anti-Russians of the old joke about those incomprehensible Institutes for Scientific Investigation (Научно-исследовательский институт), shortened to НИИ. Since in Russian ни means neither and also nor, there were various jokes about institutes known as НИИ МЯСО,НИИ РЫБА, neither meat nor fish or, more colloquially, neither flesh nor fowl nor good red herring. But it is a kind of a joke in Russian and I would like NIGAZ to become that.

    Go Tatyana, prove anti-Russian bias here.

  20. > I like acronyms where the acronym is is inside the acronym like Visa or GNU:

    Uh, the Hacker’s Dictionary has had one for decades, long predating GNU, for that matter (since at least the late 1970s — GNU dates from the early 80s) — MUNG, which stands for MUNG Until No Good.

    The generally used term is “recursive acronym“.

  21. > You’re trying to convince me that I am thinking something that I am not thinking. How can you conceivable hope to win that argument? How to you hope to convince me that I don’t know my own mind?

    Um, Shannon, not to get into the middle of this, but, uh, people DO often have different behaviors, internal prejudices, etc., which they might be unaware of until someone calls attention to them.

    I’m not claiming anything either way, but saying “I’m the only one who knows what I’m thinking” isn’t necessarily accurate — you might, indeed, not know what you’re thinking and someone else might, conceivably, perceive something when you aren’t aware of it. And being certain of it makes it much more possible than if you weren’t certain of that, depending on how carefully you actually looked at Tatyana’s claims.

    I think, where the Left is concerned, most of them have no clue about their internal biases and filters, and they operate on a whole host of projections, denials, and other highly defective mental shields which prevent them from seeing what the real result of their goals is almost certain to be. At least some of them will have an Alec Guinness moment: “Dear God, What have I done?” — but many will shuffle off to their deaths with no clue how they got before the firing squad.

    I’m far more self-aware than most, and so I spot that I do have my own biases on occasion when I see something that doesn’t jibe with them, despite substantial effort to eliminate them.

    Again: I’m not claiming Tatyana’s even vaguely right one way or another — but you should be conscious that, when bias is being discussed, it’s not automatic that you know better than everyone else. You’re the only one who has any hope of certainty, yes, but others may still be correct about it despite your belief that they are wrong.

  22. O Bloody Hell,

    Um, Shannon, not to get into the middle of this, but, uh, people DO often have different behaviors, internal prejudices, etc., which they might be unaware of until someone calls attention to them.

    Well, you are correct. In fact, when I do right about issues in which bias can play a part I perform a little internal check to see if bias plays a part in my analysis. I developed that habit after learning in psychology class how powerful such unconscious biases are.

    I can say that I didn’t start writing that post while thinking about Russians at all. I had spent over 30 minutes chewing through language references, not references on Russian history.

    If I had actually written a post about Russia or Russian behavior then I would have stopped to think about anti-Russian bias but this post isn’t about Russia or Russians. It’s about a looking for a word to describe a particular type of acronym. The fact that some silly people saw something offensive in Gazpoms innocent syllabic contraction was merely the trigger for my search for the word. If anything, the post could be read as defense of Gazpom in that it shows they merely followed a long standing method of creating organization names. Otherwise, the post had nothing to do with anything Russian one way or the other beyond the peripheral fact that Russia used to have a socialist government and socialist seemed particular found of syllabic contractions.

    It’s like I was looking for a particular synonym for “obsidian” and someone accused me of racism against people from New Guinea. I am still utterly confused about what Tatyana even found offensive in the parent. She never would say.

    I would entertain the possibility that some unconscious bias on my part caused me to adopt a negative view of Russians if someone could tell me what I said was actually negative. I keep trying to address what I think has upset Tatyana but I never seem to find out what set her off. My situation is literally Kafkaesque as I stand accused of an unspoken crime.

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