Do You Know the Meaning of These Common Acronyms?

By: Torrance Grey
Estimated Completion Time
3 min
Do You Know the Meaning of These Common Acronyms?
Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

Acronyms are a shortening of lengthy phrases, especially when they are frequently used in speech and writing, and to say the whole thing every time would be unwieldy. Examples are "NATO" and "NAFTA." 

Of course, you can go overboard in using acronyms -- and Americans, who see ourselves as perpetually crunched for time, are particularly guilty of this. Mail carriers and other USPS employees get very frustrated with people who create their own acronyms for city names, thinking, "Hey, everybody knows that "TAC" is "Tacoma!" So, if you want to be sure you'll be understood, stick to the shortenings that have been around a while, that everyone agrees on. 

However, sometimes we run into the opposite problem: acronyms that have been around so long, and are so commonly used, that people have begun to forget what they originally stood for. Are you sure, for example,  you know the long forms of "AT&T," "IBM," or "CBS"? You might be surprised by what you learn. Some of the full names, in the case of companies more than a century old, are actually rather dated. The companies or organizations behind them are probably happiest being referred to by their acronym, not their full name. 

How confident are you that you know what's what in the world of acronyms? Take our quiz now and find out. BoL! ("Best of Luck!" ... and yes, we know that's not a legit acronym!)

Alcoholics Affiliated
Alcoholics Anonymous
Animators Affiliated
Americans Abroad
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

AA was founded by "Bill W." and is one of the best-known treatment programs for alcoholism in the world. However, exact numbers of those treated are hard to come by, since, as the name indicates, privacy is key.

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Federal Bureau of Intelligence
Federal Benefits Industry
Full-Blooded Italian
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

This one was probably fairly easy. The FBI is one of the best-known government agencies, partly because it is a favorite subject of TV and movies -- including "The X-files," the subject matter of which is pretty far afield from what the FBI actually does!

Unearthly Flying Object
Unidentified Flying Object
Unusual Flight Formation
Unusual Found Object
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

The term "UFO" arose in the 1950s, replacing terms like "flying disc." That term was too specific about the shape of the object, which wasn't always disc-like, and it implied the UFO was some kind of alien craft, when in fact most are explainable terrestrial phenomena.


Living on Lifesavers
Living Out Loud
Laughing Out Loud
Lots of Love
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

"LOL" has been mistaken for "Lots of Love," with unfortunate consequences. One widely-circulated anecdote tells the story of a woman who responded to a death in a friend's family by typing, "So sorry to hear. LOL."

British Broadcasting Corporation
British Baking Company
British Broadcasting Company
British Broadcasters' Cohort
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

We all love British baking shows, it's true! But the BBC is the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Also Tell Me
Automatic Teller Machine
Automated Teller Machine
Automatic Transmission Mode
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

Many people might say "automatic," but it isn't really -- you still have to use the keypad. Or you could avoid the whole issue by saying "cash machine" instead.


Managers & Marketers Association
Management & Merger Analysis
Mixed-Media Arts
Mixed Martial Arts
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

MMA came about when fighters in different styles wanted a way to compare their skills via a head-to-head fight. Senator John McCain has called MMA "human cock fighting," though he's since softened his stance.

North American Baseball Association
North American Basketball Association
National Basketball Association
National Baseball Association
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

OK, you probably found this one easy. "NBA" is a straightforward acronym -- and it helps that basketball is one of the most popular sports in America.

National Air and Space Association
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
National Astronauts and Spacefarers Association
National Aeronautics and Space Association
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

The "Administration" part is what tricks people. But this isn't just an "association" of like-minded people. It's a government-affiliated agency.


Young Men's Christian Association
Young Men's Christian Athletics
Young Men's Christian Affiliation
Young Male Christians of America
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

Nowadays, you don't have to be young, male OR Christian to use these facilities, which are now largely inexpensive gyms for the public. But the name has stuck, since "the A" sounds unimpressive.

Scholastic Aptitude Test
Scholastic Assessment Test
Scholarly Ability Test
Both #1 and #2
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

Did you know that "the SAT" no longer stands for anything, according to the College Board that manages it? The "A" used to stand for "Aptitude," then for "Assessment." Finally, the College Board decided the name "SAT" was so famous it could stand alone.

North American Trade Organization
North American Trade Omnibus
North American Treaty Organization
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

NATO is one of those acronyms so common that many people don't remember the full name. But it's "Atlantic," and comprises 29 nations, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere.


Dog Enthusiasts' Association
Dog Enthusiasts Affiliated
Drug Enforcement Agency
Drug Enablers Anonymous
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

The DEA is the branch of U.S. federal law enforcement that deals with drug crimes. It is substantially aided, though, by the FBI and U.S. Customs.

Critical Information Association
Criminal Information Association
Central Intelligence Agency
Columbia Intelligence Agency
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

The CIA is informally known to its agents as "the Company." Its role is intelligence-gathering, often overseas. Don't confuse it with the FBI.

Health (in) Moderation Organization
Health Maintenance Organization
Health Management Organization
Health Management & Oversight
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

The HMO was a response to rising health care costs. It offers lower costs for consumers and their employers (if a workplace-based plan), but also fewer choices in providers.


American Association for Role Play
American Association of Retired Persons
American Association of Railroad Personnel
Anglican Affiliation of Religious People
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

The AARP is a well-known name in America. It's active in lobbying Congress on issues affecting retired people, and also runs a magazine providing health and lifestyle advice for seniors.

Snakes & Serpents Association
Social Security Administration
Serbian Students Affiliated
Silence & Secrecy Agency
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

Social Security is a kind of national pension program in which employees and employers both pay into during their working lives, then get a monthly check after retirement. It was founded in the early 20th century to prevent poverty among the elderly.

Internally Managed Health Organization
Internal Medicine Health Organization
In My Humble Opinion
In My House Only
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

This is a term that arose on Internet message boards. Is the speaker always being genuinely humble? Not really!


Grain Producers Association
Grade-Point Average
Grapplers & Pummelers Association
Good People of America
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

Where do we sign up to be part of Good People of America? Is there an entrance exam?

World Health Organization
Working Healthcare Offices
Worldwide Healthcare Organizers
Women's Health Organization
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

This acronym is sometimes pronounced as the word "WHO." It is run by the United Nations and headquartered in Geneva.

North Atlantic Financial Trade Association
North Atlantic Free Trade Act
North American Free Trade Agreement
North American Free Trade Act
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

NAFTA is a pact signed by Mexico, the US, and Canada. It was signed during the Clinton administration, but had been in the works for some time before that.


United Furniture Company
Ultimate Figure-Skating Championship
Ultimate Fighting Championship
United Foods Corporation
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

The UFC is America's reigning MMA-fight-promotion company. Walk past any sports bar in the US, and you'll see posters advertising their next pay-per-view.

Be Right Back
Be Real, Baby
Be Relatively Brief
Bring Rum, Baby!
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

This gets used during a real-time Internet chat -- for example, if you want to get up and fix yourself some hot chocolate. It's less necessary in the age of video chat.

National Baking Company
National Broadcasting Company
Northern Broadcasters of America
Northern Broadcasting Corporation
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

Fun fact: NBC used to be the acronym for the "National Biscuit Company." Nowadays, you know them as "Nabisco."


Movement in Fine Arts
Majoring in Film Arts
Master of Fine Arts
Mighty Fine Asparagus
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

MFA programs are advanced programs in writing, painting, and so forth.

Universal Serial Bus
Unlikely Side Benefit
Unusual Sight (to) Behold
United States (of) Benetton
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

If you use a computer (and current evidence suggests you do), you know what a USB is, if not how to define it. It's a name for any kind of connector that uses a universal (hence the name) connector at the end, the one with the familiar narrow-trapezoid shape.

American Telephone & Telegraph
Atlantic Telephone & Telegraph
American Telephone & Television
Abrams, Tilson & Thierry
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

Surprised? Many people think the "A" is for "American." And they might not remember that the second "T" is for "Telegraph." It's all pretty dated for a now-global high-technology company, but changing the name now would probably require millions of dollars of re-branding.


Quite Edifying Demonstration
Quite Early Development
Quite Educational Display
Quod Erat Demonstratum
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

Quod Erat Demonstratum means "which has been shown." Don't say "Quod Erat Demonstrandum," which would mean "which has been needs to be shown," which doesn't make any sense. (An "andus" or "andum" construction in Latin means "should" or "needs to.")

Industry & Business Mechanics
International Business Machines
Internal Business Mechanisms
Internal Bylaws & Meanings
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

IBM coined its name long before computers as we know them existed. Now, like AT&T, it's deeply involved in high technology, but has kept its old-fashioned name.

Literacy & Scholarship Aptitude Test
Legal Scholastic Aptitude Test
Law School Admission Test
Law Schools of America Test
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

Despite its similarity to the name "SAT," for "Scholastic Aptitude/Assessment Test," it's not the "Legal Scholastic Aptitude (or Assessment) Test." The LSAT, as its name implies, is for those college graduates wishing to advance to law school.


Over Easy Dish
Oxford Educational Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary
Oh, Ed!
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

The Oxford English Dictionary is generally agreed to be the ultimate authority on what is or isn't part of the English language (British English, at least). If you've ever seen an unabridged edition, it was probably on a stand somewhere in a library, because it's too big and heavy to easily put on and take off a shelf.

Commercial Broadcasting Studios
Columbia Broadcasting System
Columbia Broadcasting Studios
Christian Broadcasting Society
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

"Columbia" is a kind of poetic name for America, derived from Christopher Columbus. And, though it might seem odd, the "S" stands for "System" -- though in what way a network is a "system," we're not sure.

British Columbian Educators
British Columbian Empire
Before the Common Era
Believers in Christian Empathy
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

"Before the Common Era" and "Common Era" are replacements for the Christian-centered terms "B.C." and "A.D." Many people still use the latter, informally, but university professors and educators usually apply the more neutral terms.


Overall Beneficial Excellence
Orderly & Beneficial Environment
Orderly & Beautiful Environment
(Most Excellent) Order of the British Empire
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

This one is for our English friends! The OBE is a medal given to British nationals or others who have made contributions to the English nation in a variety of fields: art, science, public service, and so on.

Bonus question: What is the difference between an acronym and an initialism?
The first is pronounced as a word, the second read as its individual letters
The first is for multi-word phrases and the second for shortening of single words
The first is a modern term; the second is out-of-date
These are interchangeable terms
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

The Chicago Manual of Style explains that "AIDS" is an acronym, and "BBC" an initialism. It further goes on to introduce the term "contraction," which is when the first and last letter of the word is used, e.g. "Mr."

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