The word laser was coined in 1960, and before then it wasn't one word at all. It was five: laser is actually an acronym, that of Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation. People liked the futuristic feel of the term, and it caught on quickly (word usage was more than two hundred-fold greater in 1998 than in 1958). But the plot thickens! The whole idea of the acronym was influenced by another relatively recent neologism, that of maser. You might not recognize it, but it's utilized in microwave technology and is a compound of Microwave Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Indeed, a "laser" was originally an "optical maser", until people figured out that they can switch things around. Laser's career was not over, however: it had yet to influence an acronym itself! The word taser was an acronym of Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle. This obviously overuses the power of acronymization, but it was both influenced by laser and by the actual rifle of Thomas Swift in a 1910 novel by Edward Stratemeyer. Don't be fooled by these three words, though: a lot of etymologies see people claiming them to be acronyms and they in fact are not.
Adam Aleksic is a 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd