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PME, SEDIN and other German acronyms that confuse English speakers

By Victor Akhidenor With words like Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz (beef labeling supervision task transfer law) and Vermögenszuordnungszuständigkeitsübertragungsverordnung (asset allocation responsibility transfer regulation), it’s clear why Germans rely…

By Victor Akhidenor

With words like Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz (beef labeling supervision task transfer law) and Vermögenszuordnungszuständigkeitsübertragungsverordnung (asset allocation responsibility transfer regulation), it’s clear why Germans rely so much on shortening words. However, German acronyms can be complicated and tricky.

An English speaker won’t bat an eyelid when asked about the initialism for the German-sponsored Programme Migration for Development. PMD, the person would say with the confidence of an exceptional Spelling Bee contestant.

However, a mango-loving staff of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH head office in Nigeria will press the buzzer and say it’s incorrect. It’s PME, she’ll declare.

PME? You got to be kidding me!

It’s no joke, though.

What we suspect here (but unwilling to investigate) is a case of the boat that has two captains’ sinks. Programme Migration & Diaspora (PMD) can’t issue orders and another PMD – Programme Migration for Development contradicts it. Hence, the “letter trafficking” (not to be confused with human trafficking) of letter E into the latter! After all, E is the next in line in both the English and German alphabets.

But we have been kidding all along and have stretched the joke too far. The correct explanation is that Development in German is Entwicklung. Programme Migration for Development is actually Programm Migration fur Entwicklung!

“But we are Germans, we have to confuse our Erzfeind”!

Welcome to the wacky world of German acronyms.


An acronym, a subset of abbreviation, is a word or name comprising parts of the word’s full name. Initialisms or alphabetisms are acronyms formed from the string of initials which are usually pronounced as individual letters. As in IOM (International Organisation for Migration), ILO (International Labour Organisation), MRC (Migrant Resource Centre), FMLE (Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment), ICMPD (International Centre for Migration Policy and Development), LMIS (Labour Market Information System). The German examples of initialism are HIERO (Hanseatic Institute for Entrepreneurship and Regional Development) and CERPAC (Combined Expatriate Residence Permit and Aliens Card).
But acronyms sometimes use syllables instead, as in SKYE (Skills Development for Youth Employment). Talking about SKYE, both syllables and initialism came into play here. Skills and Youth Employment are the “beneficiaries” while Development was given the Cinderella treatment!
This brings us to the “worst case of Cinderella treatment in history”. And it’s between the accused NGC (Nigerian-German Centre for Jobs, Migration and Reintegration) and the would-be breakaway, JMR (Jobs, Migration and Reintegration).
JMR: My omission from the acronym, NGC, borders on marginalization?
NGC: But guys are mere appendages. You’re like a committee of a council with no power of its own. Please, deal with it.
JMR: A mere appendage? What’s your organisation’s core function?
NGC: We offer individual counselling services to returning migrants and the local population. We inform you about the risks of irregular migration, as well as the opportunities and requirements for regular migration to Germany. We also give advice on employment, business, and educational perspectives in Nigeria…
JMR: (cuts in) And all these boil down to what?
NGC: Erm, jobs, migration, and reintegration.
JMR: You’ll hear from our lawyers!

With SEDIN, though, all explanations hit the roof. If acronyms were twins with SEDIN, they will be fraternal twins. SEDIN and Pro-poor Growth and Promotion of Employment in Nigeria are definitely non-identical twins! But we reckon the Pro-poor blah blah blah is a mere title and that SEDIN actually stands for Sustainable Economic Development in Nigeria.

Who engineered the “confusion”? It wasn’t me (in the voice of the Jamaican reggae rapper Shaggy). But then, German acronyms are different in English because the English language does not always translate German words and phrases directly. Some acronyms may be rendered differently in English to preserve the meaning or flow of the sentence.

For example, the German acronym ANABIN (Anerkennung und Bewertung auslandischer Bildungsnachweise) means “recognition and evaluation of foreign qualifications. Same patterns are used in Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) – Bundesinstitut fur Berufsbildung. HWK Chamber of Skilled Crafts (HWK) – Handwerkskammer. Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IHK) – Industrie- und Handelskammer. And Service Centre for Professional Recognition (ZSBA) – Zentrale Servicestelle Berufsanerkennung, and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) – Bundesministerium Fur Wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit.

But wouldn’t it be less confusing if BMZ tows the line of the regional body known in English as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Communaute economique des Etats de I’Afrique de I’Ouest (CEDEAO) in French? And go by GFMECD in English and BMZ in German? Well, we are just thinking aloud.
Despite some words have been marginalized, is BEMA (Berliner Beratungszentrum fur Migration und Gute Arbeit) not better off as it’s called BEMA than for its acronym not to be in synch with its meaning just to satisfy the insatiable English speakers? Thumbs up BEMA!


The Edo State Skills Development Agency must have been bitten by GAB – the German Acronym Bug (our coinage, by the way). Or how else will you explain its acronym EDOJOBS. Shouldn’t it have been ESSDA?
We know they create jobs and also want to be like acronyms that can be pronounced as words. How nice to wine and dine with SKYE, NELEX (National Electronic Labour Exchange), SEDEC (Sustainable Economic Development Cluster), and TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training).

MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) should have been invited to the party but for the fear of Jose MOUrinho taking the matter to our made-up acronym CTCA (Copyright and Trademark Court of Appeal)!
Training of Trainers (TOT) seems to have a received double invitation for the meet-and-greet. One read TOT and the other pronounced as Taught. Thus, Training of Trainers was denied access to the event. GIZ declined altogether. We’re GIZ, not Jeez!


Through TVET, SEDEC have worked with administrators from the Board for Technical and Vocational Education

(BTVE), the Benin Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines, and Agriculture (BENCCIMA), the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), the Lagos State Technical and Vocational Education Board (LASTVEB), and the likes.

What do these organisations and their acronyms have in common? Aside from the connection with TVET and SEDEC, the firms and their shorter versions are what we call 5 and 6 in football. They are in sync. No ambiguity. No racking the brain. Unlike some German acronyms like, erm, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH!

Through the Economic Education and Entrepreneurship (EEE), a component of SEDIN, the German government sponsored programme uses the modular learning for its target population in Nigeria. The content of the training builds from INSPIRE, to CREATE, to START, and ends with the SCALE (ICSS) module.

It would have been Inspire, Create, Start, and Scale (IESS) if English words and German acronyms had been considered. By the way, IESS in German means Inspirieren, Erstellen, Starten, and Skala!


Instant messaging joined German and English acronyms in holy matrimony! German slangs are copied from the English ones and for once, this familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. Chat messages like LOL, IDK, YOLO, THX, OMG (the German version is Oh mien Gott!) etc. are short so that other participants respond quickly. Sorry, ASAP!


Several reasons can be attributed to the dissimilarities in English and German approaches to acronyms.
In German, it is common to create an extra word from the initials of a longer phrase. For example, “Fernsehen” (television) is often abbreviated to “Fernseh.” In English, it is more common to simply write the letters of the acronym without forming an unfamiliar word. This can be seen in acronyms like TV, CD (compact disc) or DVD (digital versatile disc).

Another reason for the difference between German and English acronyms is the fact that English is a global language, while German is more regional. This means that English has more exposure to other languages and cultures. This can influence how words and phrases are abbreviated. For example, the acronym NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) is well known in English, but it may be unfamiliar to many German speakers.
Their different writing styles constitute another difference. In German, compound nouns are very common, and it is typical to create extra words by combining multiple words. This makes it easier to create acronyms by using the first letter of each word in the compound noun. For example, the German acronym “ÖR” stands for “öffentlich-rechtlicher Rundfunk” (public broadcasting). In English, compound nouns are less common, and so acronyms are often formed by taking the first letters of each word in a phrase.

Another key aspect of German acronyms is that they are not typically pronounced as individual letters. Instead, they are pronounced as if they were a single word. This can be confusing for English speakers, who are accustomed to pronouncing acronyms like CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) as individual letters. In German, however, the acronym BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst, or Federal Intelligence Service) is pronounced as if it were a single word.
Finally, it is important to note that the German language approach to acronyms is quite different from that of other languages, including English. In many cases, German acronyms are more complex and longer than their English counterparts are. For example, the English acronym NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is only four letters long, while the German acronym DLR (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, or German Aerospace Center) is six letters long. This difference is because German words are often longer and more complex than English words.


The German language approach to acronyms is unique and complex. It involves using umlauts, not pronouncing the individual letters, and having longer acronyms than other languages. And like we said, these differences can be confusing for non-native speakers. But they are important to understand in order to communicate effectively in German.

With some practice and patience, it is possible to become familiar with the German approach to acronyms and use them effectively. And you’ll be okay as long as you stick with GIZ and not try to call it Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH!

Akhidenor can be reached via [email protected]

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