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Syllable Acronyms: Why HoCo Means Homecoming

If you call homecoming HoCo, you're using something called a syllable acronym. Other syllable acronyms are FloJo, HoJo, and Texaco.

By
Neal Whitman, read by Mignon Fogarty,
September 29, 2016

 

Fall is finally here, and here in the United States, September or October are when many of the nation’s high schools have their homecoming tradition. For those of you who don’t live in the United States or Canada, homecoming is a week during which a school’s former students come back for a visit, and it usually features a football game, a dance, and various other school-spirit-related activities. In the last few years, the word homecoming has joined the ranks of words that have given rise to an unusual type of acronym, which is formed by taking not just the first letter of each word in a name, but its initial consonant and first vowel. I’ll call them syllable acronyms. 

For homecoming, if you haven’t already guessed, it’s HoCo. You can go to YouTube right now, search for HoCo, and finds dozens of videos showing the increasingly ridiculous ways that teenagers will ask someone to be their date for the homecoming dance. 

The first syllable acronym was probably Nabisco, short for National Biscuit Company.

According to a 2005 post on Language Log by Ben Zimmer, syllable acronyms started cropping up at the beginning of the 20th century—in other words, they’ve been around as long as the majority of our more typical initial-letter acronyms. According to Zimmer, the first syllable acronym was none other than the company name Nabisco, shortened from National Biscuit Company. So many other acronyms followed that used the syllable co to stand for company, such as Texaco and Sunoco, that to this day, the most popular pattern for syllable acronyms is a rhyme involving a long O, such as SoHo (a New York neighborhood that is south of Houston Street), HoJo (the hotel chain Howard Johnson or, when I was growing up, the musician Howard Jones who sang “Things Can Only Get Better” and “Don’t Try to Live Your Life in One Day”), FloJo (the American Olympic track and field star Florence Griffith Joyner), and now HoCo. Incidentally, I’ve learned that HoCo can also refer to Howard County, a county in Maryland between Baltimore and Washington, DC. There were a lot of Howard County HoCo tweets on Twitter, but if you go back far enough, you can see that the first tweet using HoCo to refer to homecoming was posted in December 2011. 

If you’re a high-schooler, college student, or a graduate returning to your alma mater, I hope you have a fabulous HoCo this year. And if you’re a writer of fiction, I wish you a fun and productive November. You know, National Novel-Writing Month, better known by its syllable acronym of NaNoWriMo

That segment was written by Neal Whitman, an independent researcher and writer on language and grammar. He blogs at literalminded.wordpress.com, and tweets @LiteralMinded

Open the next podcast segment in a new window to keep following along: The Bestseller Code.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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