Before I started coding for a living, I thought the military had a monopoly on long, euphemistic acronyms. I’d been exposed to terms like HEAT (high explosive antitank), CINCLANT (Commander in Chief, Atlantic Command), and MIRV (Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles) through popular culture and a few years of high school ROTC. It wasn’t until I landed my first development job and started reading trade magazines full of terms like NIC, SQL, and WYSIWYG that I realized the computer industry has the military beat hands down in terms of acronyms.

Then there’s the code name factor. For every Overlord or Desert Storm, there’s a Blade or Chicago. In fact, with all the small-scale projects going on at any given time, there are probably enough private-sector acronyms, code names, and abbreviations in use to make even the most jaded military planner blush.

I suppose we can blame geek humor for the most gratuitous use of such verbal shorthand. Here’s one example.

The short, sad story of ALINA
Some time ago, a few friends were trying to think up a code name for a new project. They needed to port several major applications from Access—which incidentally they all hated—to Visual Basic 6.0, and they had just begun the fight to finalize the Access versions of these apps in order to start converting them. The political situation in the company they worked for was such that none of them was too excited about the project. Keeping all this in mind, I, with tongue firmly in cheek, suggested they call it ALINA, for “At Least It’s Not Access.”

My friends loved the inside joke. They took my idea back to their team, and everyone immediately started referring to the nascent project as “Project ALINA.” In fact, my half-joking idea was so popular that they promised to include my name in the traditional project credits’ Easter egg in exchange for my valuable “consulting” services.

Unfortunately, the inside joke got out when a nontechnical sales manager learned what the acronym stood for. “For some reason, George didn’t think it was funny. So, he wants us to stop using ALINA,” said my friend Julie, “and wants us to call it by a name that’s less ‘negative.’ So, since you were such a big help last time, I thought we’d enlist your services again. We need a new code name.”

My suggestions ran the gamut from using a nonsensical symbol and explaining that it meant “The Project Formerly Known as ALINA,” to WeDoNNSA, meaning “We Don’t Need No Stinking Acronyms.” I guess I wasn’t having a particularly strong day. I’m told that the team recently decided to rechristen the ALINA project as ”PECIFICLY,” as a good-natured dig at the development manager, who routinely mispronounces the word “specifically.”

Everything’s normal here Web Editor Shelley Doll has a code name story with a somewhat happier ending. She was once involved with a project known as “System and Network Architecture and Functionality Upgrade,” or SNAFU for short. As you may know, SNAFU is a military term from World War II that euphemistically stands for “Situation Normal, All Fouled Up.”

Despite taking pains to use the long name for quite some time, Shelley says that someone in management eventually put everything together—and got the joke. “He thought it was funny and started using the acronym on all documentation. It fit the project pretty well.”

Now it’s your turn

Ok, now’s your chance to share your favorite project acronym, code name, or euphemism. Post them to our discussion, and please remember to keep your submissions within the realm of proper decorum.