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For something to be recursive, it means the rule or procedure is repeated.

The word comes from the Latin word “recurred” which means
return to”.
It became famous around 1934 when it was used in mathematics, the application of
the word became famous in geometry when fractals and images when broken down are created by exact copies of the
whole making it a continuous process.

The recursive acronym is an acronym that
refers to itself or has the acronym included in the meaning of the word.
It’s an acronym that is also one of the primary words in the definition.
A recursive acronym can also be seen as a series of initials in which one
initial stands for the same series of initials e.g GOD which still means God.

The term was first used by Douglas Hofstadter in his book “Godel, Escher, Bach: An eternal Golden Braid”- In his book,
he invented the acronym GOD, which means “GOD over Djinn” to help explain infinite series.
They are mostly used in some software projects for humorous effects.
This arguably started with Richard Stallman’s GNU project.
GNU stands for “GNU’s Not Unix” which means that GNU has no code dating to the original Bell lab’s Unix.

While Stallman popularized the use of recursive acronyms in the free and open-
source software communities for humorous effect, the practice was already established in the MIT artificial
intelligence lab of which Stallman was a part in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Two LISP machine text editors were named EINE (EINE is not Emacs) and ZWEI (ZWEI
was not EINE initially) with ZWEI being the German word for two and EINE could
be reinterpreted as being a reference to the German word for one.

Many recursive acronyms have made their way into the tech world today, the most popular are:
  • WINE- WINE is Not an Emulator
  • PHP- PHP Hypertext processor
  • cURL- cURL URL request library
  • GNU- GNU’s not Unix


  • WINE- WINE is not an Emulator: It’s an open source and free compatibility layer that aims to allow application software and computer games developed for Microsoft Windows to run Unix-like operating systems.

The selection of WINE is not an emulator as the name of the wine project was the
result of a naming discussion in 1995 and it was credited to David Niemi.

  • PHP- PHP Hypertext processor: this is a popular scripted language that is used to create dynamic web pages.
    It is often installed alongside MYSQL on Apache web servers as part of LAMP configuration.
    PHP is among the first server-side languages that could be embedded into HTML alongside inline CSS making
    it easy to add functionality to web pages without needing to call external files for data.
  • cURL- cURL URL request library: this was first released in 1996 by the Swedish developer Daniel Stenberg,
    he created cURL because he wanted to automate the fetching of currency exchange rates for IRC (Internet Relay Chat).
    cURL is a command-line tool that is used for transferring data from or to a server using one of the supported protocols (HTTP, HTTPS, TENET, etc)
  • GNU- GNU’s not Unix: this is a Unix-like computer operating system but without any unit code.
    Unlike Unix, GNU is free. It is a collection of free software that can be used with other operating systems or can be used with other operating systems.
    The use of these led to the family of operating systems known as Linux.


These are some of the famous recursive acronyms in tech today, we hope this was enlightening.

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