[amsat-bb] Re: OSCAR - Acronym for...?

James Whitfield n5gui at cox.net
Tue Aug 5 14:05:30 PDT 2008

Reading this thread has been entertaining, particularly the discussion about
its importance.  I am pleased, if also surprised, that there are writers and
editors that actually care that much about the accuracy of what they write
and edit.

I have had a moderately long technical career, occasionally punctuated by
what I now view as futile attempts to get co-workers, most of whom were
supposedly well educated, to understand the meaning of the term "acronym".
The difficult, and most frustrating, part is in trying to communicate what
an acronym is not.  COBOL is an acronym, but IBM and BLT are not.  ( Since
most of the time I have tried to point out the distinction, the reaction
that I got was "serious don't care". )

With that as a back drop, I would speculate that since the term OSCAR was
coined during a rampant epidemic of the alphabet soup of both government and
industry, the term was created for its panache and the actual words for
which it would stand were finalized afterward.  The strongest evidence that
I can bring forth is that it was a common practice at the time.  If anyone
can tell the story as it happened, or even some of the unverifiable legends
of the time, I would enjoy hearing about it.

Sputnik certainly proved that amateurs could receive signal from a radio in
a man made satellite.  The really great creative spark was suggesting that
one could be build, not by the military or a government agency...or even an
industrial corporation, but by amateurs, for amateur experimentation.
Eventually it had to lead to the need to name it.  Amateur radio equipment
onboard a satellite.  AREOS.  Nothing to grab attention there.  Satellite
with amateur radio -  SWAR.   Nope.  Satellite carrying amateur radio --
SCAR.  Better, but not a positive message.

However the name got to OSCAR, it was and still is a good name.  Even so, I
am a bit troubled by the thought that the expanded name for the project
might not have been selected simply for the contraction to OSCAR.  Suppose
that Orbital ( or perhaps Orbiting ) Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio was
really the name and OSCAR came later.  What exactly would be the reason to
use the combined term "orbital satellite".  A quick check of the dictionary
suggests to me that in the technical context, satellite is an object that is
in orbit.  That being the case, why use the term "orbital satellite"?  At
the time were there "non-orbital satellites" that needed to be distinguished
from the amateur radio variety?  The dictionary doesn't help, what with all
of the different ways that the terms orbital, orbiting, and satellite are
used, one can concoct a lot of different concepts, none of which I can tie
into the basic concept, which in my mind needs not additional

It is only my opinion, but the term OSCAR has outgrown its roots as an
acronym.  Consider the word "radar".  It has been so ingrained into the
every day language of our society, even allowing for the dependence of
society on technology, that it is no longer recognized as an acronym.
Perhaps there are linguistic scholars that can trace its origins, but in the
language of today, the term radar has lost its distinction from other words.

So it is within the language of amateur radio.  An OSCAR is a recognized
thing.  The term OSCAR, though perhaps it is still capitalized, invokes
direct meaning rather than translation into the components that made up its
origin phrase.  Perhaps it is a fitting tribute to those whose genius and
sweat built and operated OSCARs that the word has been accepted as a normal
part of the amateur radio lexicon.

My thanks to each of you, old timers and newcomers alike.


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