CAS – Catchy Acronym Syndrome

If you work in the technology industry, you know the pain of acronyms.  It seems like every tech term sooner or later devolves into a jumble of letters.  For some of the longer tech terms, I don’t mind this.  I can even understand if the acronym forms a word naturally, like RIP or RAID.  What I do have a problem with is the growing trend to name something with a very unwieldy moniker solely for the purpose of giving it a cool acronym.  It’s so pervasive that I’ve given this trend it’s own acronym – Catchy Acronym Syndrome (CAS).

You may find yourself suffering from CAS if you go out of your way to name your product after you’ve decided on the acronym for it.  If you’ve never referred to your product or protocol by its full name you may also be guilty of CAS.  Yes, for me this means that RAdio Detection and Ranging (RADAR) and Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation (LASER) are prime examples of CAS.  Let’s look at a few of my favorite offenders:


SIMPLE – SIP Internet Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions Why all those extra words?  SIP IM and Presence (SIMP) would have worked too.

RFC 6837 – NERD: Not-so-novel Endpoint ID (EID) to Routing Locator (RLOC) Database – Your acronym contains two other acronyms that are both almost as long as the one you created.  You’re not only guilty of CAS, you are the poster child for it.

RADIUS – Remote Access Dial-In User Server  I’m including this one because it’s obvious to me that the original intent was to create a word first.  Given the fact that the successor protocol is called Diameter, which itself isn’t an acronym for anything and is a play on words with RADIUS you can see how this made the list.

Business Units and Other Business Terms

Cisco High-End Routing and Optical – HERO I’m sure they had no ulterior motive for that one.

CARAT – Customer And Role Attribute Tracking Just keep sticking words in there until it makes a word.

PARTNER – Processing Automated Receivables Transactions and E-Routing The longest offender I could find

(more Cisco-specific offenders here)

This practice also exists today for the purposes of media exposure.  Take Advanced Persistent Threat (APT).  What does this term actually tell you?  It’s a very complicated idea, sometimes multiple attack vectors and exploits being used all at once.  Why such a simplistic acronym then?  Because the basic non-computer user reading the news can’t grasp a Persistent Attack and Theft Program, but they can get APT because it’s catchy.  Now, we’re developing acronyms like Advanced Volatile Threat (AVT) that don’t add any additional information beyond APT, but the new ones have to look similar to APT or regular people won’t understand they are security related.  When the entire purpose for making an acronym isn’t for descriptive purposes and instead serves to link your idea to another idea or ride on another acronym’s coat tails, you’ve violated CAS.

Tom’s Take

People who get started in technology hate the huge amount of acronyms that must be learned.  It doesn’t help that people today seem to be more content on creating protocols solely because they want to have a cool acronym.  I’ve made fun of acronyms for things like the Disaster Recovery Tool (DiRT) for years, but that was never an officially sanctioned acronym.  I’m sure it was more frustration from people who used it and wanted to sully the name a bit.  I get more and more irritated when the list of new RFCs comes out and some hotshot programmer named his proposal NERD or GEEK simply so he could use these common words to refer to a complex idea.  Gone are the days of descriptive names like RIP and RAID and DSLAM.  Instead, we have to deal with people trying to be catchy.  If you spend more time writing your protocol and less time trying to name it, you might not have to worry about being catchy.

3 thoughts on “CAS – Catchy Acronym Syndrome

  1. nice post Tom!

    It reminds me of the original name of IPCC Express approx 2001. This was the Callmanger 3.0 days. It was bright and shiny and new, and we still called it skinny, not SCCP.

    In those days, IPCCe was actually call the the Customer Response Application Program. needless to say, there was very quickly a rev 2 of those disks where they changed the name to Customer Reponse Solution. The urban legen says that Chambers himself demanded the change, sited with the quote ” We’re Cisco. we don’t make CRAP! “.


  2. One may wonder why CHAP is Challenge-Handshake Auth Protocol, when next sentence says something about Challenge and Response. I guess the latter would not sell well.

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