A recursive acronym is an acronym that refers to itself. This type of word order to form acronyms is done for many different reasons. The agreement between the different examples of this type of acronym that is a recursive acronym includes a reference to the object or idea that is built by the entire collection of initial letters in the acronym. For example, a common IT acronym, WINE, stands for "Wine is not an emulator." Here, the word that represents the entire acronym, VINO, is included in the components of the acronym and the acronym is said to be recursive or, in other words, "self-referencing."
To understand what a recursive acronym is, it is helpful to understand the meaning of the word "recursive". Experts describe the meaning of "recursive" as being related to repetition, or the repetition of a theme or idea. In mathematical applications, recursive often means defining an object in terms of itself. Some like to think of this idea as "nesting" one identical object within another, or as a series of "shells" around a core, which helps provide a visual representation of recurring phenomena.
Many of the recursive acronyms used in the modern age refer to information technology. Various alternative technologies, such as operating systems and software applications, may describe themselves in terms of other products or systems. This can cause a recursive acronym situation. Another example of this is the acronym for GNU TI, which stands for "GNU Is Not Unix".
Sometimes recursive acronyms are constructed because the meaning of the acronym is not significantly different from the meaning of the original word. In other cases, these recursive acronyms happen through common usage. One example is the phrase, "vehicle identification number," which is also known by the acronym VIN. Over time, many North Americans and others who use a "VIN" as an identifier for a vehicle have begun to refer to it as a "VIN number," where the "N" in the VIN also stands for "number." That repetition builds the recursive acronym.
In modern times, some people familiar with the use of recursive acronyms have coined the phrase "redundant acronym syndrome" to describe the modern use of the recursive acronym, particularly in the field of IT. Part of the trend toward recursive acronyms in IT is based on the many different technologies that go into a larger IT process. There is also a trend in technology competition that can cause some recursive acronyms, including the examples cited above, which computer programmers sometimes call "definition by comparison," where a recursive acronym is set up to say that "(something) doesn't is (something else)."
In general, recursive acronyms can be confusing. Whether drawing on unique aspects of the defining features of an idea or object, or contrasting that idea or object to another, these complex constructions often defy interpretation because of the repetition that is involved. Many of those who use information technology jargon have often advocated the deletion of many of the common acronyms that are used, even coming up with the pejorative term, "alphabet soup," to describe an excessive number of complex acronyms that sometimes often confused a lay audience.