Abbreviations and Acronyms and a Bit of Trivia

I’ve been thinking about abbreviations and acronyms lately and how they can mean different things from place to place.

When I first moved from Illinois to Connecticut late last year the abbreviation “NE” often caught my eye in ads and the newspaper.

For me NE has always meant Nebraska. I used to live in Nebraska, which the Post Office officially abbreviates as NE. If you’re of a certain age, you may recall that the official abbreviation for Nebraska used to be Nebr before all states were reduced to a two letter abbreviation in 1963. This change worked out well for Illinois which used to be Ill.

Now that I reside in a New England state, you can probably guess that the NE I’ve been seeing refers to New England and not Nebraska. It took me seeing it a few times for it to sink in and no longer do a double-take.

A bit of trivia: 
All of the states were given a two letter abbreviation by the US Post Office in 1963. What is the only state that had that two letter abbreviation changed by the request of a foreign government?*

I had a funny thing happen with another interstate move that I made some twenty years ago when I ventured from Nebraska to Nevada. As a kid growing up in Illinois, my middle school put all the kids who weren’t at grade level in a class that was labeled Learning Disabled Students. Students in this class were commonly referred to as LDS for short.

Some of you may already suspect where this is going.

Mean teachers threatened students (or me, anyway) with being sent to LDS if they (I) didn’t behave/pay attention/do their (my) homework. It struck fear in me, that’s for sure, because only the “rejects” were in LDS. Calling a kid LDS at my school was the equivalent of calling her a “retard.” Middle school can be brutal.

Fast forward a bunch of years.

I moved to Nevada to enter a PhD program. If I didn’t exactly consider myself smart by then, I at least felt confident in my ability to pay attention in class and do my homework. And I hadn’t launched a spit ball in years.

During the first week of the new semester I was surprised when someone asked me if I was LDS. I’m sure I gave that first person who asked me a funny look before mumbling, “no.” That first time I was too surprised to ask what LDS meant. The second time someone asked me I was too embarrassed to ask what it meant, because . . . I should know, right? Surely if two fellow students in the program asked me something so casually I should know. Did I nod off during orientation? Was LDS something I was supposed to have done? Was LDS some precursor to ABD? God forbid I ask a question.

During the second week of the semester while walking to a seminar with my new friend Marie, she nodded toward another woman who walked passed us and said, “She’s hardcore LDS.”

I stopped in my tracks. “What is LDS?” I asked.

“Latter Day Saint,” Marie answered.

I just looked at her.

“You know, Mormon.”

“Oh!” I emphatically replied as the light bulb went on. I laughed and explained to Marie what LDS had meant to me as a kid growing up in Illinois. Marie got a kick out of that especially because she was LDS (hence knowing the gossip early on in the semester that someone else was “hardcore”).

Have you had a similar experience with an abbreviation or acronym that changed meaning from one place to another, or perhaps generationally? I’d love to hear about it! Please share your experience in the comments section below.

*The trivia answer is Nebraska. The 1963 Post Office change made Nebraska’s abbreviation NB. However, in 1969 Canada asked the US Postal Service if they’d change it to avoid mix-ups with New Brunswick, so Nebraska became NE. [source]


  1. I love the fact that you have written about postal abbreviations. As early as high school I used to somewhat look down on people if they didn't know all the two letter state abbreviations. Now, in these days of diminished snail mail (and being over 40?) I find myself not quite as quick with them as I used to be.

    I am so glad you gave the answer to your trivia question. It would have drove me batty.

    I have an abbreviation story that hopefully won't be too inappropriate for your blog. When I was at the University of Minnesota (universally known in MN simply as “The U”) all of the departments had abbreviations. Not surprisingly History was HIST, American Studies was AMST, etc. And then there was Comparative Literature…which was abbreviated C-LIT, but without the hyphen! Someone should have been fired for that.

What do you think? Leave a comment and let's talk!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.