Chief Wiggum: Uh, Mrs. Simpson, I have some bad news. Your husband was found DOA.
Marge: Oh my god! He's dead?
Chief Wiggum: Oh wait, I mean DWI. I always get those two mixed up.
Mrs. Phillips walks in.
Mrs. Phillips: My name's Mrs. Phillips. You said my husband is DWI?
Uh, why don't you talk to that officer over there? I'm going out to lunch.
Characters get their acronyms confused, often involving mistaking one for another, and/or misremembering an acronym severely enough to intend to refer to one acronym, but actually mention another.
Subcategories include acronyms being confused due to sharing an initialism, and acronyms getting mixed up for other reasons.
See also Fun with Acronyms
and Acronym and Abbreviation Overload
. Can overlap with Name's the Same
- In the Polish comic Kajko I Kokosz, an important official comes to visit the town. The whole book consists of the two knights performing all kinds of whacky hijinks to impress him (all the while hiding the fact, that most people in town have been cursed with sloth) only to find out that... he wasn't quite so important. The acronym was the same... N.I.K. (Which in Poland is Najwyższa Izba Kontroli (Supreme Chamber of Control) but here interpreted as Najwyższa Inspekcja Kaszteli (Highest Inspector of Castles). Turned out to be Niższy Instruktor Konkursów (Junior Instructor of Competitions)).
- In the Great Lakes Avengers mini-series, Living Lightning thinks 'GLA' stands for 'Gay-Lesbian Alliance.'
- When She-Hulk starts working as a bounty hunter enforcing supervillain court dates, she typically tells people she's with the FBI. Most don't think to ask, and it actually stands for Freeman Bonding Inc.
- From Analyze This:
FBI Agent Steadman: Dr. Sobel, Ma'am: I'm Agent Steadman, Agent Ricci, Agent Provano, Federal Bureau Of Investigation, OCD.
Dr. Ben Sobel: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
FBI Agent Ricci: Organized Crime Division. We need to talk.
- In National Security, Earl (Martin Lawrence) spots a file in Da Chief's office labelled "CIA Heist". Hank (Steve Zahn) assumes Earl is making this up. Later, though, they find that the bad guys have been raiding warehouses for kegs made of a new space-age alloy worth millions. They confront Da Chief with it, who confirms the CIA connection. Hank is incredulous, assuming they're talking about the Central Intelligence Agency. Both Earl and Da Chief look at him like he's an idiot and explain that they mean Crupps International Aerospace. Earl later asks why Hank thought he meant the actual CIA.
- In the Woody Allen Bananas, the dictator of San Marcos discusses the possibility of a rebel overthrow:
General Vargas:“If they should try to overthrow, I have made a deal for reinforcements. With the UJA.”
Aide:“You mean the CIA, excellence? The UJA is the United Jewish Appeal.”
General Vargas:“Uh oh.”
- Cut to Ashkenazi Jews roaming the wartorn streets of San Marcos collecting donations from soldiers.
- In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home:
Kirk: Oh, him? He's harmless. Part of the free speech movement at Berkeley in the sixties. I think he did a little too much LDS.
- In The Whole Ten Yards, Lazlo Gogolak often makes mistakes about idioms and terms and hates it when people correct him. For example, he thinks that a DUI and an IUD are the same thing. They're not. Besides, a guy getting an IUD would be a little weird.
- Dies The Fire. An ex-recon Marine is asked post-coitus about a scar he got during Desert Storm. He says it's from an RPG, causing the puzzled woman to wonder how you get a scar during a Role-Playing Game.
- In The Laundry Series by Charles Stross, the organisations formerly known as MI5 and MI6 have invoked and exploited Acronym Confusion by changing their initialisms to DI5 and DI6 respectively and having their old initalisms reassigned. This way, the government can honestly claim that MI5 is certainly not doing whatever Orwellian thing they're being accused of while forgetting to explain that this is because MI5 is the organisation in charge of rubbish collection.
- Invoked by Colonel Flag on M*A*S*H.
I'm with the CIA, but I tell people I'm with the CIC, so they think I'm with the CID.
- In the Get Smart episode "A Man Called Smart", Max is looking for someone known only as 'T.B.O.'. While standing at a catering truck, this exchange occurs:
Maxwell Smart: Bediyoskin told us to contact you. He even wrote your initials on a slip of paper. T.B.O.
Tom Orlando: T.B.O. can mean a lot of things.
Maxwell Smart: Oh really? For instance, give me another T.B.O.
Caterer: One T.B.O. forty cents.
Maxwell Smart: T.B.O.?
Caterer: Tomato and bacon on an onion roll.
- The Golden Girls: Blanche's middle name is Elizabeth, and she keeps a journal with her initials on the cover. Her initials spell BED, and the girls mistake it for a logbook of people she's slept with.
- Unfortunately common. For instance, there is the Independent Wrestling Association, a group of territories banded together to compete against the National Wrestling Alliance, meaning there have been a few IWAs in a few different countries, and there is also the International Wrestling Association, a collaboration between promoters in Puerto Rico and Japan, meaning there were a couple different IWAs in different countries. Occasionally promotions in the same country will have the same acronym, such as Ultimate Pro Wrestling and United Pro Wrestling in the USA (though they were on opposite sides of the country), Pure Wrestling Association and Prairie Wrestling Association in Canada. Then there are unfortunate cases such as Warriors Of Wrestling, a program from the 1990s and Women Of Wrestling, a program from 2001, which both got revivals around the same time, meaning there were two WOWs at once.
- The "Cartman Joins NAMBLA" episode of South Park involves confusion between the North American Man/Boy Love Association and National Association of Marlon Brando Look-Alikes. The latter have a grudge towards the former since they managed to grab the "nambla.org" domain first.
- More from The Simpsons, as a tragedy of Shoehorned First Letter:
Krusty: ...KKK?! That's not good!
- Made worse by the fact that that particular show was being held at the Apollo Theatre.
- In an episode where Bart makes a deal with some Chinese spies and gets stalked by a CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) van... which turns out to stand for the Chinese Intelligence Agency instead, who congratulate him for giving them information about the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. Afterward, the French Bureau of Investigation arrives, followed by the A Team of Finland.
- And the FBI van that says "Flowers By Irene" on the side.
- The page-quote example from The Simpsons, of course.
- From the "Zoobotnik" episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog:
Coconuts: I only wanted to tell you I saw one of those F.O.U.s - I mean, C.I.A.s, uh, or C.O.D.s...
Get to the point or your name will be M.U.D!
- Real life example; the acronym GSA, which can refer to either the General Services Administration, the Girl Scouts of America or the Gay-Straight Alliance, three VERY different organizations. This is made even more confusing at universities that have a Graduate Student Association.
- Another real life example: ED can stand for Eating Disorder (anorexia/bulemia) or Erectile Dysfunction (impotence). Which makes certain ED drug commercials confusing, disturbing, or hilarious.
- Yet another real life example: For a time during the early 1930s, the NRA (National Recovery Administration) and the NRA (National Rifle Association) both had their main offices in the same building in Washington DC.
- Which C.I.A. do you want; the Central Intelligence Agency or the Culinary Institute of America?
- There are different◊ kinds of "RPG".
- The World Wildlife Fund/WWF, for some bizarre reason, was worried people would confuse them with the World Wrestling Federation/WWF. After losing a lawsuit over the acronym, the wrestling group changed to WWE and had to go through their video catalog and "erase" all WWF logos.
- A.A. can stand for Alcoholics Anonymous. Or you could be talking about the Argentium Astrum, a magical order founded by Aleister Crowley.
- The latter is spelled A.'.A.'. for some mystical reason, or to avoid the confusion — take your pick.
- In the UK AA can also stand for the Automobile Association, a motorists' club. Conversely, in America, AAA means American Automobile Association—or Anti-Aircraft Artillery, or the Archives of American Art.
- GOW? Gears of War or God of War? Only the two series being Xbox and PlayStation exclusive respectively stops this from being extremely confusing.
- MW2: MechWarrior 2 and Modern Warfare 2. It doesn't help that both are Activision games.
- DMC can stand for either Devil May Cry or Detroit Metal City.
- Delorean Motor Company? It's on the front of their cars.
- Dead On Arrival is a standard police or medical initialism. Date Of Accident is a common insurance initialism. Given that, on any given automotive or health insurance claim, the first is a possibility, confusion has arisen on more than one occasion.
- SWAT, as in "Surface Water Assessment Team," came into the public eye after the 2010 BP Oil Spill.
: Who are likely facing wedgies of historical proportions once the real SWAT find out about their name.
- There was a joke submitted to the Humor In Uniform section of Reader's Digest. A new graduate's parents were visiting on base and saw a van pull up that said SWAT on the side. The parents were concerned until the graduate informed them that it was the landscapers and stood for Seeds, Weeds, And Trash.
- KKK can mean the infamous Ku Klux Klan and the Kataas-taasan, Kagalang-galang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayannote , the most famous La Résistance group in the colonial Philippines and widely considered and revered in the nation the forerunner of the First Philippine Republic. This has caused some shock for American tourists when they see murals or paintings of the group with "KKK" proudly displayed therein.
- Also in the Philippines, we have the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which, when referred to solely by its acronym in the international media, can lead to some Unfortunate Implications.
- Fans of the NWA probably don't want to see the NWA.
- There's potential transatlantic confusion with A&E: in the US, Arts and Entertainment Network; in the UK, (Hospital) Accident and Emergency department. If a British visitor to America asks for A&E, you'd better assume they're not looking for the network.
- SNK can stand for video game company SNK, or the Japanese title of the anime Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin). Some fans of the anime refer to the series by its English name to avoid confusion.
- You would think the acronym for Highschool of the Dead would be "HSotD". Nope, it's "HotD". Poor, poor House of the Dead fans. To add to that, the title of the games usually read "The House of the Dead" which could easily be written as THotD but its still HotD.
- FF: Final Fantasy, Final Fight or Fatal Fury?
- QB: The Queen's Blade franchise, a Quarter Back, or the Fan Nickname for the slightly-sinister Mentor Mascot from Puella Magi Madoka Magica?
- In the United States, "SC" refers to the state of South Carolina. Within Northern California, it means the city of Santa Cruz...unless you're in the Silicon Valley area, in which case it refers to the city of Santa Clara.
- Gets even more fun among fans of Kingdom of Loathing, as it can stand for 'Softcore' (to differentiate from hardcore) or 'Seal Clubber', one of the classes. So you can be an SC SC from SC.
- PCB can refer to either "printed circuit board", "polychlorinated biphenyl", Perfect Cherry Blossom, or (for aerospace geeks) Plenum Chamber Burning.
- PNG can refer to Portable Network Graphics, a lossless image file format, or PNG Jewelers, where "PNG" stands for the late Purshottam Narayan Gadgil, a jeweler that the business derived their name from in honor.
- GTA is either the Greater Toronto Area or a crime-oriented action game series.
- S.F. is either San Francisco or the initials and an alias of Konami in-house musician Sota Fujimori. Or you could be talking about science fiction, although God help you if you dare to use the initials around Harlan Ellison...
- Graduating from MIT is a lot less impressive in New Zealand, where it stands for Manukau Institute of Technology, an Auckland-based polytechnic.
- The Temiskaming & Northern Ontario Railway was renamed the Ontario Northland Railway due to its reporting name being confused with the Texas & New Orleans Railroad, a Southern Pacific subsidiary.