A Brief History of the MIT Acronyms List

by Alice Waugh on November 2, 2016 · 7 comments

in Alumni Life, Campus Culture, Learning, Modern Geekhood, Student Life

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With all its departments, labs, offices and research centers—not to mention a fondness for code—MIT has more than its fair share of acronyms and abbreviations. Most people in the MIT community know what EECS and HASS mean (not to mention the immortal IHTFP), but what the heck is STIR or ODGE? (Skip to the end if you can’t stand the suspense.)

These examples of what sound like word salad are part of the MIT Acronyms list, an online wiki that anyone with MIT certificates can view and update. First compiled by the MIT Libraries in the late 1980s, the collection eventually found its way to the web and has proved to be a boon for new employees as well as confused freshmen. Today it’s linked to the Jargon page of the New Employee Orientation & Onboarding website.

Janet Snover took on the task of updating the paper list about 25 years ago as a “back-burner project” when she was working as special assistant to Executive Vice President John Curry. “I noticed that communications people and especially newcomers were really confused by the alphabet soup of acronyms and abbreviations. They were sitting in meetings and didn’t know what people were talking about,” she says. After Snover retired in 2007, the list was taken over by Catherine Avril, former communications director for the School of Engineering (SoE, but you knew that) and then Bill Litant, the current director of communications for AeroAstro.

“My very first exposure to working at MIT was an acronym,” says Litant, noting that he was hired by what was then known as AA to oversee communications for departmental initiatives including CDIO (Conceive, Design, Implement, Operate—an interactive learning model in AeroAstro).

Another abbreviation that caused confusion for newcomers was UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program). “People were saying, ‘What is a UROP—a year abroad, or some kind of uniform we’re supposed to wear?'” Litant recalls. The new abbreviation for what used to be called IS (Information Systems) was also a head-scratcher. Confronted with the abbreviation IS&T, some wondered if it was the name of a local railroad, he says.

Acronyms and abbreviations that have faded into MIT history include ODSUE (the Office of the MREM (the Mineral Resources Engineering and Management program) and CAES (the Center for Advanced Educational Services). Others have simply evolved; the AI Lab has been succeeded by CSAIL (the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) and GaMIT (Gays at MIT) is now LGBT@MIT. Meanwhile, several alumni affinity groups with their own strings of letters, such as AMITA (Association of Alumnae at MIT), BAMIT (Black Alumni of MIT) and MITAAA (MIT Arab Alumni Association), are still going strong.

By the way, STIR is Signal Transformation and Information Representation (a group in the Research Laboratory of Electronics), ODGE is the Office of the Dean of Graduate Education… and IHTFP, depending on whom you ask, can be “I Have Truly Found Paradise,” “Institute Has the Finest Professors,” “It’s Hard to Fondle Penguins,” “I Have to Forever Pay,” or “I Hate This *** Place.” We can’t spell it out completely, since that would be NSFW.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Hajime Sano November 2, 2016 at 11:15 am

Thanks for the fun article. BTW, would you please finish defining ODSUE? It looks like a line of text was cut and it is killing my OCD.

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Jay London November 2, 2016 at 11:59 am

Hello Hajime, that’s been fixed. Thanks for reading!

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Hajime Sano November 3, 2016 at 2:56 am

Thanks! I feel better now.

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Toni Stmmel November 3, 2016 at 1:10 pm

MIT has a real advantage in Acronym development because the Greek alphabet is also widely known and used in Beaverland.

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Teri Centner November 3, 2016 at 4:38 pm

You didn’t forget about the NRSA did you?

http://alumweb.mit.edu/groups/515nrsa/

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Tom Mikus November 19, 2016 at 11:56 am

MIT itself is an acronym, which the online list does not yet include. Too obvious?

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Bill Litant November 28, 2016 at 4:50 pm

A colleague in the AeroAstro Department was ordering some DVDs via telephone from the Discovery Channel. When giving the operator the address, she was asked to “Please spell ‘MIT.'” The package came addressed to her at “Mitee.”

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