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Notes and Quotes by Tom Morrow

November 13, 2014

By Tom Morrow

Our history and folklore, both past and present are filled with all sorts of oddities that, for the most part, are used every day, but few people know what they actually mean and from where they originated.

Take, for example, “Sig-Alerts.” Most motorists know what they are – warnings that traffic has snarled somewhere on the freeways, but where did that particular terminology come from?

Many think it’s short for “signal alert, but that’s not it.

Sig-Alerts are strictly a Southern California invention. Back in the late 1940s, when traffic began getting heavy throughout the city, the Los Angeles Police Department cooperated with a local radio news reporter, Lloyd Sigmon, by “alerting” him to bad crashes on freeways as well as city streets. These alerts became known as “Sig-Alerts.”

The system became so popular and depended upon by motorists, Sigmon developed an electronic gadget that could be used to report traffic pile-ups to all media throughout the affected area. Caltrans now uses Sig-Alerts to report any traffic incident that will tie up two or more freeway lanes.

Then, there’s “RADAR.” It’s not a word, but an acronym for “Radio Detection and Ranging.” Developed by the British during World War II to alert the RAF of approaching German aircraft, the system was shortened to RADAR. Years since, dictionaries and style books have turned it into an everyday word: Radar.

Same goes for “SONAR,” an acronym for “Sound Navigation Ranging.” It’s so commonly used in nautical terminology we also accept it as a word: Sonar.

Another World War II acronym that has evolved into a word is “SNAFU.” This term is commonly used to describe a glitch or foul-up. While that basically describes its original meaning, the term was derived by military personnel to describe a chaotic situation frequently occurring during the fog of war. It means “Situation Normal, All Fouled Up.”

Another WWII acronym was: “FUBAR,” another term for SNAFU.

It means: “Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition” (or Reason), however, it should be reported that, in both SNAFU and FUBAR, soldiers and sailors seldom used the word “Fouled.” A more commonly used four-letter word was popular.

And, that brings us to “GI.” This is another term from World War II, primarily referring to soldiers drafted into the military. It means “Government Issue.”

NEW WORDS – Here are some new words to consider:

Acrononimize – (Not Acronymize). To make non-understandable or unknowable through the process of reducing to an acronym.

  1. Obamics – Economic policies created by our president designed to pull us out of our national financial crises.
  2. Nobamics – Those policies that don’t work.

PUN FUN — She was only a whisky maker, but he loved her still.


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