Are there other common abbreviations that are from foreign languages?
June 10, 2020 2:30 PM   Subscribe

An electrocardiogram is commonly called an EKG in American English after the German name Elektrokardiogramm. Are there are other common non-organizational abbreviations/initialisms/acronyms in English that use the initials or shortening of a foreign language original?

By non-organizational, I mean that for these purposes I exclude the abbreviated names of foreign organizations, that is examples like KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti), SS (Schutzstaffel), FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), where the abbreviation of the foreign name is kept when referring to it in English.
posted by Jahaza to Writing & Language (33 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Well, UTC (according to Wikipedia) is commonly (if not frequently) used in English speaking countries, and it derives from a compromise between the French and English preference.

"English speakers originally proposed CUT (for "coordinated universal time"), while French speakers proposed TUC (for "temps universel coordonné")."

So I think this falls within your boundaries (not an organization, and not representative of the English phrasing). As a programmer I use UTC in my correspondence often to describe when a programming change will take effect, or when a logged occurrence was detected.
posted by forthright at 2:43 PM on June 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

Metric measurements are sometimes referred to as SI, which stands for Système international.
posted by aubilenon at 2:45 PM on June 10, 2020 [5 favorites]

"SI" is French ("Système international").

There are tons of Latin ones.
posted by likedoomsday at 2:46 PM on June 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

Well there's tons of Latin ones: A.D., e.g., i.e., am, pm, c. (circa)...
posted by theodolite at 2:47 PM on June 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

Not sure if this is what you are looking for, but oz. for ounce is said to come from the Italian onza.
posted by Glomar response at 2:48 PM on June 10, 2020

I occasionally see MSF used in the US for Medecins Sans Frontiers even though one could just say Doctors Without Borders.

We refer to the KGB, not the Committee for State Security.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:48 PM on June 10, 2020 [5 favorites]

A.M. and P.M. (oops - missed theodolite above!)
posted by mdrew at 2:53 PM on June 10, 2020

RSVP - répondez s'il vous plaît
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 2:54 PM on June 10, 2020 [11 favorites]

The symbol for pound (as in weight) is lb from the Roman "libra".

Lead has the chemical symbol Pb from the Latin "plumbum".
posted by trialex at 3:06 PM on June 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

The abbreviation "LSD" is from the German "Lysergsäurediethylamid"
posted by aubilenon at 3:07 PM on June 10, 2020 [8 favorites]

In mathematics, the set of integers is written as 'Z', from the German Zahlen, meaning "numbers". The set of rational numbers is written 'Q', from the Italian 'quoziente', meaning "quotient".
posted by J.K. Seazer at 3:19 PM on June 10, 2020 [5 favorites]

A lot element abbreviations for chemistry are like this, K for potassium (Kalium), Fe for iron (ferrum), W for tungsten (wolfram)...
posted by 445supermag at 3:25 PM on June 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

More Latin: et cetera (etc.) means 'and so on'; et alia (et al.) means 'and others'.
posted by heatherlogan at 3:59 PM on June 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Vitamin K takes its K from koagulation, Dutch for coagulation.
posted by eschatfische at 4:12 PM on June 10, 2020 [5 favorites]

The dollar sign $ came from an abbreviation of the Spanish word peso.
Cents comes from the French for hundredths.
Per cent literally means per hundred in French (hence the fabulous sound of "cent per cent" 100%).
posted by heatherlogan at 4:15 PM on June 10, 2020

Before decimalization the British penny was denoted d. (as in £/s/d), which stood for denarius.
posted by heatherlogan at 4:17 PM on June 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

There's a bleak joke in Saving Private Ryan over the acronym SNAFU, might be outside terms of question
posted by unearthed at 4:32 PM on June 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

In sheet music, dynamics (relative loudness) is specified by various abbreviated Italian terms, like mf for mezzo-forte.
posted by mmoncur at 7:12 PM on June 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

Parts of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are similar to each other, but are not found in the other Gospels. Many scholars believe they draw from an earlier account called Q, from the German word "Quelle", meaning "source", or "well".
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:33 PM on June 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

The K in K/T Boundary kind of stands for Cretaceous.
The Cretaceous–Tertiary (K-T) boundary is a geological signature, usually a thin band of rock. K, the first letter of the German word Kreide (chalk), is the traditional abbreviation for the Cretaceous Period
posted by quinndexter at 7:47 PM on June 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Building off of trialex and heatherlogan: Libra became lb which is then thought to have become #.
posted by jenquat at 7:49 PM on June 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Building off heatherlogan, the character "&" (ampersand) is formed from the letters "etc" all ligatured together.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:06 PM on June 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

What Christians call the Old Testament, or the Hebrew Bible, is fairly frequently called the Tanakh or Tanach in English, from the Hebrew acronym for "the Law, the Prophets and the Writings", תנך. (When I say "fairly frequently", I mean by Jews and Christian theologians who know Hebrew.)

There was a culture in Central and Eastern Europe in the neolithic that archeologists usually refer to as LBK, the German acronym for Linearbandkeramik, "Linear Band Ceramic". A lot of the sites from this culture are in Germany, and archeologists usually refer to it by the German acronym for their style of pottery.
posted by nangar at 8:47 PM on June 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

RIP is actually from the Latin "Requiescat in pace"
posted by soelo at 9:02 PM on June 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

Adding to your $, dollar is from Thaler, derived from the German word for a valley (since the location they were from was a town named for its valley, technically it's an abbreviation of the town name). English cognate is probably 'dale'.

On Latin, id est and et gratis are the most common, QED a more rare case and there's a lot in between.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 9:25 PM on June 10, 2020

The word "flak", meaning "anti-aircraft fire" is an abbreviation of the German word "Fliegerabwehrkanone".
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:44 PM on June 10, 2020 [5 favorites]

In law school, "contract" is abbreviated as "K"; maaaybe from the Greek? Pi for plaintiff and delta for defendant, certainly.
posted by pykrete jungle at 9:45 PM on June 10, 2020

The abbreviation “no.” for “number” (as in “Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8”) comes from the Latin numero.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:20 PM on June 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

MiG (the fighter aircraft) is from Russian Mikoyan i Gurevich, the two designers (i is 'and'). Similarly, AK-47 is from Avtomat Kalashnikova.
posted by zompist at 10:28 PM on June 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

RPG is technically short for ruchnoy protivotankovy granatomyot (hand-held anti-tank weapon) and not 'rocket propelled grenade'.
posted by Comrade_robot at 3:08 AM on June 11, 2020 [5 favorites]

“P.S.” for Latin post scriptum.

“M.D.” stands not for medical doctor but for the Latin medicinae doctor , “Ph.D.” for Latin philosophiae doctor, “LL.D.” for Latin legum doctor, etc. (The double L in legal degrees refers to the two branches of law.)
posted by mbrubeck at 11:11 AM on June 11, 2020

“U-Boat” is an anglicized abbreviation for German Unterseeboot.
posted by mbrubeck at 11:18 AM on June 11, 2020

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