15 Unfortunate Abbreviations

When Abbreviations Go Wrong

When a word or phrase is abbreviated, it can sometimes take on an entirely different meaning — a meaning that might be humorous, offensive, or embarrassing. The history of weird news is full of examples of this phenomenon, as illustrated by the cases listed below.

What Kind Of Bible Camp?

meth bible camp

In Blountville, Tennessee, the road sign for Methodist Bible Camp Road was shortened to read "Meth Bible Camp Rd." A second sign below it helpfully pointed out that taking this path led to a dead end. The road sign was later replaced with a non-abbreviated version.

Controversial Shade

rape yellow glossy
via Twitter

In March 2016, the British supermarket chain Aldi landed at the center of controversy when one of its customers found it selling a can of paint labeled "rape yellow." Growing "furious and upset," the customer posted a picture of the paint can online. However, not all shared her outrage. Many pointed out that the offending term referred to the bright-yellow rapeseed plant, and noted that botanists regularly use both the short and long forms of the plant's name. (The name derives from "rapum," the Latin word for a turnip.) But seeking to avoid offending any customers, Aldi promised that in future it would not use the abbreviated form of the plant's name on any paint cans. [The Telegraph, 3/25/2016]


This wasn't the first time the rapeseed plant had generated controversy. In 1957, the UCLA Librarian journal reported that British customs officials had confiscated all copies of a work titled Rape Round Our Coasts, suspecting it to be a publication of low moral character. The author subsequently protested that it was a scientific monograph about plant growth and soil erosion. [UCLA Librarian, 11/1/1957]

True Patriots?

Bay State Patriots
New England Patriots

In 1971, when the Boston Patriots football team relocated from the city of Boston to a stadium in Foxborough, a half-hour south, the team's owner, Billy Sullivan, felt a new name was in order. So the team became the Bay State Patriots. But only a month later, after a radio announcer had referred to the team as the "BS Patriots," Sullivan changed the name again, explaining to reporters that, "We didn't think that abbreviation would reflect well on either the team or the league." The team is now known as the New England Patriots.

For The Kids

KKK Wednesday
via Twitter

In Hull, England, a Krispy Kreme donut store stirred up controversy after it posted advertisements for a children's activity event titled Krispy Kreme Klub Wednesday — but which it abbreviated as KKK Wednesday. After numerous people pointed out that the ad appeared to be promoting the Ku Klux Klan, the store took down the ad and apologized for the error. [USA Today, 2/17/2015]

Scientific Terminology

In a 2007 paper published in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal ChemComm (Chemical Communications), Chinese scientists wrote about the electrochemical synthesis of copper nanotubes. Unaware of English idiom, they referred to their subject repeatedly by using an abbreviation that combined the letters Cu (for copper) and NTs (for nanotubes). A paper published eight years later in the English-language journal Science China repeated the same abbreviation, assuming it was standard usage for the field. [Science China, 4/2014]

Military Jargon

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, American security officials shared many documents with their British counterparts, hoping to coordinate response strategies. The British officials noted that throughout these documents "The War Against Terrorism" had been abbreviated as "T.W.A.T." They advised the Americans that, given British slang, this was a poor word choice. [Express on Sunday, 11/4/2001]

Matches Its Name

Circa 1980, the Japanese steelmaker Sumitomo took out full-page ads in English-language trade journals to promote its Sumitomo High Toughness steel pipe. The ads displayed an acronym of the product (SHT) in bold letters. Beneath this ran the tag line, "It was made to match its name." Reportedly the company had used a Japanese agency to design the ad. [David Ricks. Big Business Blunders. 1983]

What The...

In 2009, the Wisconsin Tourism Federation announced that it was changing its name to the Tourism Federation of Wisconsin. The reason was that the old name was too often abbreviated as WTF. "We didn't want it to detract from our mission," a spokeswoman said. [upi.com, 10/1/2009]

Welcome To Fruita

Welcome To Fruita

Along similar lines, in 2012, city managers in Fruita, Colorado briefly considered adopting a marketing campaign to promote tourism that featured the phrase "Welcome To Fruita" abbreviated as "WTF." The campaign was the brainchild of a local couple who, at their own expense, printed up five hundred decals featuring the slogan and distributed them to local businesses. Although many residents expressed support for the campaign, the more conservative members of the city council balked at giving the campaign official endorsement. [Denver Post, 2/21/2012]

How He's Remembered

Frank Selke Stanley Cup

When the Toronto Maple Leafs won the National Hockey League playoff in 1945, the managers and players of the team had their names engraved on the Stanley Cup, as per tradition. However, Frank Selke, the assistant manager of the team, was unfortunately immortalized on the cup as "F.J. Selke, ass man." [Wall Street Journal, 5/21/2009]

Can I Have It Somewhere Else?

Ice Cream Assortment
via Twitter

During the 2014 Olympic winter games in Sochi, Russia, reporters were amused by menu listings that were frequently "lost in translation." For instance, the Russian term for "assorted flavors" was often translated into abbreviated English as "in ass" or "in the ass." Reporters shared pictures via social media showing menus offering "ice cream in the ass" as well as "cakes in ass." [upi.com, 2/6/2014]

Job Title

Coach Sandusky
via Deadspin

In November 2011, when BBC News reported about the case of Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, on trial for multiple counts of sexual abuse of children, it raised eyebrows with the on-screen caption, "Ass Coach Sandusky accused of abusing 8 boys." [Deadspin, 11/12/2011]

ISIS Recruitment

For many years, students at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville signed up for classes by using the "Integrated Student Information System," which was commonly referred to on campus by the abbreviation ISIS. But in 2015, on account of the growing infamy of the Islamic State group known as ISIS, school officials hurriedly changed the name of the computer system to UAConnect, citing a desire to avoid potential "negative meanings" that might arise if students said they were signing up with ISIS. [Big Story, 11/20/2015]

Cooking Instructions

During the 1920s, the U.S. Biological Survey, for research purposes, began placing identifying bands around the legs of birds caught and released in the wild. The bands displayed the address of the agency, abbreviated as "Biol. Surv., Wash., D.C." According to a widely reported story, the agency once received a letter from an irate farmer in Alberta who said, after shooting down a bird, he had "washed it and boiled it and surved it," as per the instructions on the band, but complained that it tasted terrible. It's questionable whether the agency ever really did receive such a letter. However, the bird bands really did display the potentially confusing abbreviation. [F.C. Lincoln, (Jan 1931). "Bird-Banding: Its first decade under the biological survey," Bird-Banding 2(1): 27-32.]