Learning and speaking the English language can be a downright chore. It’s hard enough to learn all of those stupid vowel rules and silent letters without the added burden of using long proper name organizations in everyday speech.
“Hey Bill, did you see the latest National Aeronautics and Space Administration shuttle launch?”
“Are they still doing those Larry? Jeez. No, I was too busy watching Marvel’s Agents of Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division on the American Broadcasting Company.”
Eesh. What a waste of oxygen. Thankfully, acronyms have been there to bail us out over the years- especially in the 80s. We never had to waste any syllables when we told our friends about that new Orchestral Moves in the Dark album, and those “commie” speed skaters at the Olympics were easily recognized by the CCCP letters on their uniforms (CCCP stands for Russia somehow, right?).
Since the world has been clamoring for it so loudly, today we team up to list and rank the many acronyms that embodied pop culture in the 80s.
In keeping with the theme, let me introduce you to P.R.U.P.C.A.E. = Power Ranking the Ultimate Pop Culture Acronyms of the Eighties!
The Scoring System
In order to power rank the acronyms of the 80s, we needed to establish a scoring system. Each acronym will be awarded 1 to 5 points according to these factors:
Recognizability/Cultural Impact – If you drop the acronym in conversation, do people get the reference?
Staying Power – SPOILER ALERT: the 80s were a long time ago. Do people still recognize the acronym today?
The Cram Factor – How forced does the acronym feel? Do the words go together? Do they have to be misspelled to fit?
The Chicken/Egg Component – Which came first? When looking at an acronym, is it clear that they determined the final product first and then retro-fitted descriptive words to fit the initials (see: M.U.S.C.L.E.), or did the proper title just happen to work as an acronym (see: Extra Terrestrial = E.T.)?
Let’s get to it:
UHF | Ultra High Frequency
If you didn’t have cable and the President was on every VHF channel, channels 14-83 on UHF could bail you out of a tough spot. But much like the Weird Al Yankovic film, UHF channels only entertained us in times of desperation.
A touchstone acronym of the era, but UHF only has staying power with 80s die hards.
Power Rank: 10/20
C.O.P.S. | Central Organization of Police Specialists
“Fighting crime in a future time”, this animated team of policemen captured elements of Robocop, G.I. Joe, and M.A.S.K. to protect Empire City from Big Boss and his crooks. But cool gadgets and file cards created by Larry Hama weren’t enough to protect its life in cartoon criminal justice.
C.O.P.S. is a tough one. The parts, and the sum of those parts, are both very fitting. So much so that I can’t believe the term “cops” didn’t actually result from an abbreviation of something like “Central Organization of Police Specialists”. I mean, Hasbro NAILED this in 1988. The acronym’s Power Rank is boosted by a perfect Cram Factor score (it may be the least crammed acronym on this list), but its staying power and recognizability today is nearly non-existent. Outside of 80s toy and cartoon fanatics, when the general public hears the word “cops”, they don’t think of this property.
Power Rank: 11/20
P.Y.T. | Pretty Young Thing
The sixth and final single released from Michael Jackson’s Thriller album was written R&B legend James Ingram and Quincy Jones. Michael’s sisters Latoya and Janet also contributed backup vocals. What wasn’t added to the record was a warning label to identify the age of your P.Y.T. before engaging in any T.L.C.
No one is currently referring to members of the opposite sex as P.Y.T.s, because it’s super creepy. Taking nothing from the quality of the song itself, the acronym has no life on its own.
Power Rank: 12/20
M.A.S.K. | Mobile Armored Strike Kommand
Since they wore masks with special powers, we never questioned Kenner’s marketing department for spelling command with a “K.” It’s also probably why they diverted our attention to other correctly spelled acronyms in the series like V.E.N.O.M. (Vicious Evil Network Of Mayhem) and the P.N.A. (Peaceful Nations Alliance).
M.A.S.K. has to be docked a few points for the whole “Kommand” thing, but to their credit, there aren’t many K words that would fit here. The strength of the other acronyms used in the series elevates their score, but the fact that M.A.S.K. remains un-rebooted amongst a sea of current 80s retreads hurts the acronym’s recognizability. If you type MASK into a Google search, it doesn’t enjoy the same top-of-the-results status as other acronyms on this list (damn you, Rocky Dennis).
Power Rank: 13/20
M.U.S.C.L.E. | Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere
American toyboxes were invaded by 2 inch pink rubber wrestlers in the mid to late 80s. Based on a Japanese toyline called kinkeshi, which was based on a 1979 manga called Kinnikuman, Mattel adapted the toys for U.S. distribution in 1985. Aptly named M.U.S.C.L.E., these little pink grapplers hold the distinction of being the longest acronym on this list.
M.U.S.C.L.E. is the quintessential party-acronym that exists only for fun and amusement. The 9-5 worker acronyms that serve legitimate functions such as streamlining our speech patterns or shortening lengthy but necessary word groups must scoff at the class clown acronyms like M.U.S.C.L.E. It’s nice that M.U.S.C.L.E. serves as a more compact way of saying “millions of unusual small creatures lurking everywhere”, a phrase NO ONE would be saying were it not for the existence of M.U.S.C.L.E.
Get it? Me neither. Let’s rank this one and get out of here.
Power Rank: 14/20
ALF | Alien Life Form
With a name like Gordon, this cat-eating alien life form deserved a one word nickname (just ask Sting.)
ALF slots in ahead of M.A.S.K. because its a decidedly less forced acronym (all of the words are spelled correctly), and honestly could have ranked slightly ahead of the next entry, due to its cross-gender appeal. Either way, if you bring up ALF in conversation today, everyone besides your young children and your grandparents should have at least some familiarity with the 80s sensation.
Power Rank: 16/20
K.I.T.T. | Knight Industries Two Thousand
Knight Rider introduced the acronym K.I.T.T. as the preferred nickname of all micro processors housed in a custom 1982 Pontiac Trans Am. Equally preferred are the shortened versions of its headquarters F.L.A.G. (Foundation for Law And Government) and its prototype K.A.R.R. (Knight Automated Roving Robot).
If nothing else, most people born in the 90s or earlier can identify the acronym K.I.T.T. as representing the car in Knight Rider. The short-lived NBC reboot did nothing to perpetuate the longevity of the acronym for a new generation, but it has sustained its status as one of the most recognized 80s abbreviations.
Power Rank: 16/20
VHS | Video Home System
And to play a VHS tape, one must own a VCR (Video Cassette Recorder). Looking back, shouldn’t this technology have been called a Home Video System? Did Yoda name it?
VHS and VCR rolled off the tongue and were pseudo-status symbols for a while in the 80s. Today the acronyms symbolize an obsolete technology and an entertainment era of the past. Points for impact, staying power (everyone has at least heard of a VCR/VHS), and for a distinctive un-crammed feel.
Power Rank: 17/20
RAM | Random Access Memory
If you remember taking a computer course in the ‘80s, you will probably think back and wish the WWW existed to look up all the jargon. I’m not sure what was worse, trying to remember the difference between RAM and ROM or training your eyes to read bright green letters.
Everything we said about the VHS and VCR acronyms applies here as well. Bonus: Daft Punk’s 2013 album Random Access Memories helped spark some nostalgia for this long-dated term.
Power Rank: 17/20
G.L.O.W. | Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling
If you watched WWF Superstars (acronym alert!) as a child of the 80s you are most likely familiar with the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, or G.L.O.W. for short. G.L.O.W. typically aired before or after WWF programming beginning in 1986, and its title is one of the hallmark acronyms of the 80s.
Although it does not claim our highest power rank, G.L.O.W. is a near-perfect acronym. The fact that the words Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling can be shortened to a four-letter word whose dictionary entry contains impossibly applicable phrases like “to exhibit a strong brightness” and “to be lustrously brilliant” is a stoke of either genius or great luck. G.L.O.W. scores a 5/5 in the Cram and the Chicken/Egg categories, and as far as staying power and cultural impact we’ll just say this: if you Google ‘glow’ (with or without the periods) the second result is the Wikipedia entry for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.
Power Rank: 18/20
E.T. | The Extra Terrestrial
In 1982, life forms originating beyond Earth took the form of a longneck, flat-faced alien with elongated fingers and an emaciated body. But the 1000 B.T.U.s emitting from his heart quickly warmed our eyes (and our wallets) to his flawed features.
Everyone knows what E.T. stands for. If there were some younger generation outliers, Katy Perry’s 2010 song of the same name brought them up to speed, which means we could conservatively estimate that EVERY HUMAN knows what E.T. stands for. Or at least 95% of us do.
Power Rank: 19/20
MTV | Music Television
“I want my music television” was apparently too wordy of a catchphrase and thus, the most important musical acronym of the 80s was born. Too bad some of those early music videos weren’t also abbreviated.
MTV is a globally recognized brand, and has been a recognizable acronym for Music Television since August of 1980. Everyone knows what MTV is and what the acronym stands for. It’s simple, catchy, and un-forced. The decade-plus long running joke regarding the fact they they should change their name since they don’t actually play music videos any more has just sustained the acronym’s recognizability, staying power and cultural impact.
Power Rank: 20/20
Un-ranked acronyms submitted for discussion:
- M.A.D. (Inspector Gadget)
- The various G.I. Joe acronyms: H.I.S.S., H.A.V.O.C., B.A.T.s, W.O.R.M.S.
- V visitors