Thursday, September 21, 2017

Acronyms and PHP

Whenever I teach discrete math and use FML to mean Formula the students laugh since its a common acroynm for  Fuck My Life. Now they laugh, and I say I know why you are laughing, I know what it means  and they laugh even harder.

BUT it got me thinking: Pigeonhole Principle! There are more things we want short acroynms for then there are short acroynms. Below are some I thought of. I am sure there are others, in fact I am sure there are websites of such, but I wanted to see which ones I just happen to know.

AMS- American Math Society and much much more:see here


Dead on Arrival

Department of Aging. Scary!


Earned Run Average in Baseball,

Equal Rights Amendment in politics


Phencyclidine, a drug that you should never take.

Prob. Checkable Proofs. Obscure to the public but not to us.

ADDED LATER: A reader noted Post Correspondence Problem, a good example of a natural undecidable problem.


Irish Republic Army

Internal Retirement Account

Several companies have had rumors they fund terrorism because they were giving their employees IRA's. The headline `Company X funds IRA's' could be misunderstood.


Standard Aptitute Test

Satisfiability (of Boolean Formulas) Obscure to the public but not to us. Actually it may get less obscure as more ``proofs'' resolving P vs NP come out.


Single Jewish Female (in classified ads- more on that later). I think SJF is more common.

Social Justice Warrior (sounds like a good thing but might not be)

Classified ads are a source of many acronyms which can be used to teach combinatorics.


S-single, M-married, W-widowed, D-Divorced, G-Gay (this one I've seen alone making me wonder
about S/M/W/D? I've also seen four-letter acronyms to disambiguate).

B- black, C-Christian, H-Hispanic,  J-Jewish, W-White.

M,F- Male, Female, though I am sure there are ways to say other genders.

Great for combinatorics! especially if you add in other ones (like BD)


Wisconsin  Tourism Federation

You know what else it means so I won't say it (this is a G-rated blog). When I first saw it I thought `what the fuck?- how could they have screwed up so badly?'

TEACHING TOOL- when teaching PHP (Pigeon hole Principle, not the language PHP which stands for Hypertex PreProcessing, not quite in order, or Personal Home Page) you can use the the fact that

number of concepts GREATER THAN  number of 3-letter combos

leads to some 3-letter combos will be used more than once.


  1. IRA is not IRS, and Wisconsin Federation of Tourism would be WFT.

    Do you have dyslexia?

  2. I fixed these. Thank you- especially since you commented within
    5 minutes of my posting.

    Do I have dyslexia? Fair question. If so I think its a mild case. Is it possible to have a case that affects writing but not reading? If so then I may very well have that. Thanks for your concern.

    What does an insomniac, agnostic, dyslexic do at night?

    Stay up and wonder IS THERE A DOG?

  3. For me the main source of confusion in TCS (several meanings?) is LLL: For me it of course refers to the famous basis reduction algorithm of Lenstra, Lenstra and Lovász, but some colleagues it of course refers to Lovász' Local Lemma. Anyway, it refers to Lovász...

    Btw, Wikipedia is a very good source for the polysemy of acronyms!

  4. I'm quite surprised that the Post Correspondence Problem was not mentioned, because that was the first PCP I've heard about. Some abbreviations can also become embarrassing, like this ISIS dealing with (among other things) Middle-Eastern nuclear programs:

  5. In University of Calgary, they had a lab called ISIS. Now they change the name.

  6. I read a confusing headline recently about BLM, which I assumed was Black Lives Matter but was actually the Bureau of Land Management, which manages a lot of land here in Utah.

  7. Pigeon Hole Principle needs to be changed to not traumatize pigeon loving students when they get to the generalized pigeon hole principle.

  8. MST = maladie sexuellement transmittée

  9. AMS American Musicological Society

  10. Actually, PHP is a recursive acronym "PHP Hypertext Preprocessor", which is in order.

  11. "NSA" can also mean "Nonstandard Analysis".