Jaquandor, that fine Buffalo blogger, wrote about the acronym FUBAR, and how a writer had used it as FUBARed. FUBAR, in case you don’t know, means Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition, where F really represents some OTHER word.

“Here’s my thing: Isn’t FUBAR already past-tense? Can something really be FUBARed, when the -ed suffix has already been used in the F part of the FUBAR acronym? Seems to me that FUBAR covers all bases, in terms of tense.”

And I replied: “As fussy as I can be, the absence of the -ed SOUNDS wrong… As I think more on this, I HAVE heard FUBAR NOT as a past tense. ‘You really know how to FUBAR.” So the -ed isn’t always already present anyway, in my experience.”

This inevitably got me thinking about how an acronym, “an abbreviation formed from the initial components in a phrase or a word,” is made plural. From the Wikipedia: “it has become common among many writers to inflect acronyms as ordinary words, using simple s, without an apostrophe, for the plural. In this case, compact discs becomes CDs…

“The argument that acronyms should have no different plural form (for example, ‘If D can stand for disc, it can also stand for discs’) is in general disregarded because of the practicality in distinguishing singulars and plurals.”

Further: “A particularly rich source of options arises when the plural of an acronym would normally be indicated in a word other than the final word if spelled out in full. A classic example is Member of Parliament, which in plural is Members of Parliament. It is possible then to abbreviate this as M’s P… This usage is less common than forms with s at the end, such as MPs, and may appear dated or pedantic. In common usage, therefore, weapons of mass destruction becomes WMDs, prisoners of war becomes POWs, and runs batted in becomes RBIs — generally if the abbreviation ends with a tensed back vowel syllable. The plural of RBI is ‘RBIs’ because acronyms become bona fide words as language evolves, and as with other words attract a plural suffix at the end to be made plural, even if the first word is the main noun in the spelled-out form. ” A call to make multiple runs batted in as RBI I think is just silly.

Some acronyms, BTW, have become lower-case words. FUBAR’s linguistic cousin, snafu – Situation Normal, All Fouled Up – easily takes the s as a plural.

For me, in dealing with acronyms, clarity is the key, not propriety. Which, incidentally, is why FUBARed doesn’t both me either.

ABC Wednesday – Round 13

34 Responses to “A is for Acronym plurals”

  • Ah, acronyms. As ex-forces, I used to have to speak them all the time – which can get confusing.

  • lisa says:

    My head hurts now just thinking about all this. 🙂

  • Leslie says:

    You and I seem to have been kind of on the same wave length this week with our grammatical analyses of writing! Well, as they say, “Great minds think alike! lol

    abcw team

  • Carver says:

    Interesting post. I have never seen FUBAR as meaning fouled up but that was civilized of you to put it that way. I didn’t know what it meant for a long time until it was spelled out in a war picture.

  • Rajesh says:

    Interesting information.

  • photowannabe says:

    I had never heard that word before but I didn’t know that snafu was an acronym either.
    Very interesting information Roger, thanks for sharing.

  • Robyn says:

    I didn’t know snafu was an acronym and I had never heard of FUBAR either! An english lesson during summer break – thank you!

  • Nanka says:

    I am reeling over all these Acronyms, just about learnt LOL!! and ROTFL!! 😉

  • Reader Wil says:

    I didn’t know the word FUBAR. I also learned some words I had to look up like. AWOL I thought that it must be possible to use this as a verb like : he awolled a lot, or should it be awoled? We frequently use Google as a verb, saying :” we shall Google it!” or ” have you googled it?”. There is also the familiar verb to hoover, which was originally the name of a brand. Or are these instances not really acronyms? I think Google has no plural, but CDs and TVS have a plural form, also in Dutch where we form the plural by apostrophe and “s” like CD’S and TV’s. Languages are interesting, but also confusing. I always need dictionaries.
    Have a great week, Roger.
    Wil, ABCW Team

  • Meryl says:

    AWESOME post – something I’ll be coming back to review AGAIN AND AGAIN!

  • Hildred says:

    I have always been familiar with SNAFU but in wartime when it first came to my attention it was interpreted to me as all ‘fouled’ up, – however, I’m sure the Services used the F Bomb. Great post, Roger, – needs some concentration to follow along, but well worth it.

  • Jaquandor says:

    How about RBI in baseball? Is the plural just RBI, or RBIs? (Don’t even try to use ‘Ribbies’!)

  • Roger says:

    RBIs, I say! I saw a syndicated article in the local paper about someone fretting about the language over RBIs, and was pushing RBI. Feh, feh, I say.

  • Wanda says:

    HaHaHa Roger, I feel like Lisa…my head hurts after this read, and now I’m feeling a little more anxiety…(just kidding) It was really interesting and out of my comfort zone, so I learned something new!

  • I see you have already expressed your opinion on runS batted in, and you don’t say RsBI. LOL
    My best friend and I have attended many a ballgame together (oops, the computer doesn’t like that as all-one-word, but I do) and inevitably get into a giggling session about RsBI. We worked in the newspaper business together more than once, long ago, and have always enjoyed the nitty-gritty of nitpicking, or, as she likes to say, “picking nits”!
    Our theory is “we can mess with the English language because we’ve worked with it for so many years” and we refuse to take ignorance as an excuse when used by people who should know better, unless they’re doing it for fun.

  • Bev says:

    Loved your post Roger! Lots of fun info.

  • CGHill says:

    And then there are the twee stat guys who pronounce it “Ribbies.”

  • Mai says:

    I’ve learned something new again today from this post. I wouldn’t mind the ed in FUBARed as well.

  • ChrisJ says:

    Whew, Roger! That makes my brain whirl! I think I am glad that I no longer teach English in this day and age.

  • Hazel says:

    I notice loled (from LOL).

  • Hazel says:

    ICBMs? Inter-continental Ballistic Missile.

  • Leovi says:

    Funny the sense that you’ve given your A!

  • Gattina says:

    My head is spinning with your acronyms !

  • 🙂 There’s even irregular plural acronyms now, e.g. “lol” and “lulz.”

  • Ann says:

    Well I’m totally foulded up after ready this!!

  • Here’s one for you that I’ve adopted lately- Teal Deer. I love using it in conversation and watching the puzzled reactions, as in “Here’s the teal deer version” or “Can you teal deer it for me please?”

    Question – is Teal Deer properly an acronym? If not, then what would you call it?

  • Roger says:

    I’D call it an acronym, which often take on vowels to become pronounceable. http://www.internetslang.com/TLDR-meaning-definition.asp calls it an acronym/abbreviation/slang word. It means, for those who don’t know – “Too Long; Didn’t Read”

  • Thank heavens, during my clinical training (in psy.) we would receive a red mark if we would use the “in” and “buzz” words in our reports and tests, simply so our writings could not be misunderstood in court. This means I’ve developed an aversion to “cool” words or expressions (haha).

  • Joy says:

    I remember in pre-Internet days there used to be a big book called Acronyms, Abbreviations and…? something other word I can’t remember. I think only the internet could cope with the number in use nowadays. I’m with you, if it sounds right use it.

  • ann nz says:


  • I’m new to ABC Wednesday, and based on your post, I know I’m going to like it. Blessings!

  • RsBI. Yeah, tricky. WsMD. Makes them sound like degrees from some bizarre university! Since I never use “MIL,” I have no problem writing “mothers-in-law”; however, there’s always the classic debate about FUBAR and SNAFU. To be grammatically correct, one would need to use “FUBAR” no matter what, as the F word already has the past tense. SNAFU would only have a problem if there were multiple, concurrent situations: SsNAFU. Sounds like my week, with the tooth extraction, painkillers, and heat all conspiring to make my life one big PITA! wink Amy

  • Lise says:

    I’ve never heard of FUBAR, but I like it. And I never knew SNAFU was an acronym…I’m always learning new things from you Rog!

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