More on acronyms true and false

We begin with one of the frequent renamings of a railway station in India:


You can see that this is the new name of Mhow station. The town has been renamed by the state government. An example of the old sign:


Now, someone will say, is Mhow not a British name which needs to be changed? A surprisingly large number of people believe that the name means “Military Headquarters Of War”, an example of an acronym

However, if we look more closely into the description of this town, we find that this is not so.

From the section on “Etymology”, we see that it was known as Mhau or Mau long before the British built the cantonment there, and that the above explanation of the name is a backronym

We can guess that someone (probably a bored British soldier) invented this backronym as a joke which somehow became popular. After all “Military Headquarters Of War” is a non-standard phrase which really has no meaning-why not just Army Headquarters? And which war?

There are several other (non-Indian) examples of backronyms in the Wikipedia article. There are a couple of other place names in India which are thought to be acronyms but are not. Here is another one


This is another cantonment town, about 25 km south of Jhansi. Unlike Mhow which is a suburb of Indore, this is more of a standalone cantonment town. There is a brief article in Wikipedia:,_Uttar_Pradesh

Here it is mentioned that the name is derived from “British Army Base In Native Asia”. Elsewhere I have seen it with “Northern Asia”. As in the case of Mhow, someone seems to have “created” this explanation which got accepted by others. It is easy enough to see that this is a joke; have you come across the phrase “Native Asia” in any standard reference book or historical document? And Northern Asia is generally understood to mean Siberia, Mongolia and perhaps part of China which were never ruled by the British. And when there were hundreds of British Army bases all over the country, what was special about this place to deserve this name? It was and is of some importance, but is certainly not one of the largest cantonments in the country.

Yet another one pertains to this Air Force base. There is no railway station for hundreds of kilometres, so we make do with a map reference:’00.0%22N+77%C2%B022’48.0%22E/@34.65,77.38,13z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d34.65!4d77.38?hl=en

and this

which mentions that the name stands for Transit Halt Of Indian Soldiers Enroute (to Siachen). This sounds a little more plausible than the examples quoted earlier.

However, a veteran IAF pilot who had served in this area in the 1960s pointed out that IAF transport aircraft were using this airstrip back then, long before anyone had heard of the Siachen Glacier. It was not until 1984 that our army took up positions there. It was known as Thoise even then, presumably named after a village in the vicinity.

One which is more likely to be a genuine acronym is Amla, short for AMmunition LAnd – unless it was named after the Amla fruit (and not the South African cricketer):

Amla station,_Madhya_Pradesh

Another Mhow-like joke which is quite persistent relates to Avadi in Chennai. This extract is from

“The word ‘Avadi’ has been considered as an acronym for “Armour-ed Vehicles and Ammunition Depot of India”, however this fact has no base since, the defense establishments in Avadi were set up only in the 1960s, whereas the town itself had existed long before this happened and with the same name. The name Avadi actually means in Tamil ‘a place filled with lot of cows’ ஆ (Aa) = cow + அடி (Adi) = location.”



Acronyms true and false

We take many acronyms and their explanation for granted. A good example is VT, the prefix for civil aircraft registered in India. Many times we may have heard in quizzes that this stands for Viceroy’s Territory. This is untrue, as we will see below. It is a kind of reverse engineering to find something which fits the initials.

As my friend Ash Nallawalla pointed out….”India has several sequential prefixes as part of a global assignment. VU is used for radio callsigns, for example in amateur radio; VT for aircraft etc. If you check the global allocations, you will see that the main British dominions and colonies were in the Vx series. Australia uses VK and VL for radio (possibly more), VH for aircraft etc. It is just reverse translation by people who need to remind themselves of our British colonization every day.”

Another famous one is “Military Headquarters Of War” for Mhow which many people consider to be true. This phrase seems to be too clumsy to be true and apparently was created by someone as an afterthought. This is what Wikipedia says:

“There is total lack of unanimity on how Mhow got its name. One possible source of the name might be the Mahua (Madhuca longifolia) tree, which grows in profusion in the forests around Mhow.

Some articles in popular literature state that MHOW stands for Military Headquarters Of War. However, this is a backronym, and there is no proof to support the theory that the name of the village comes from the acronym. The village near Mhow was called Mhow Gaon in the pre-British era, when English was not used in India. The Cantonment which came up in 1818 came to be known as Mhow Cantt after the name of this village. Sir John Malcolm spelt the name of this town as MOW in his writings. The 1918 edition of Encyclopædia Britannica also mentions ‘MAU’. However, the Cantonment was referred to by British officers as Mhow at least as early as the end of 1823 (letter from Lt Edward Squibb to his father in London).”

A lesser known backronym from the Army is the one for Babina near Jhansi: “British Army Base In Native Asia” and sometimes……Northern Asia”. This also sounds as contrived as the one above, as the phrase “Native Asia” does not seem to be used anywhere else. And Northern Asia would be Siberia where Britain never had a hold.

The airline and railway companies have many examples of this sort;

Queer And Nasty Types As Stewards

Better On A Camel (and in the mid-60s, Bend Over Again Christine)-google for Christine Keeler if you didn’t get it.

Pan Demonium Scareways

Good Airline Run Under Dutch Administration (i.e. Garuda of Indonesia)

and the jokes about the FA asking “do you want TWA tea or TWA coffee”.

From the British railways we have:

London & Nearly Everywhere Railway, a fair description of the London and North Eastern Railway during its heydays.

There are a number of nasty ones connected with the Indian Railways:

Bribes Never Refused – BNR, predecessor of the SER before the 2002 reorganization.

Great Improvement Possible – GIPR, predecessor of most of CR as it was pre – 2002

Sambar Idli Railway – SIR, most of the present SR

Mails Slowly Moving – M & SMR, now part of SR, SWR and SCR

and the nastiest would be:

Beastly, Bad and Cannot Improve – BB & CIR (predecessor of the WR  as it was pre – 2002).

This article may be useful: