You say SPIFFs, they say SPIVS, I say spiffs, let’s call the whole thing off

Actually, no, let’s not call the whole thing off, let’s clear this up once and for all.

Many people capitalize spiffs claiming it to be an acronym for “Special Purpose Incentive for Field Force” or any one of several possible acronyms. Let’s be clear – it does not stand for ANYTHING.

At best it is a backronym. The term “spiff” (sometimes “spiv” or “spif”) has been around since at least 1859, probably much earlier, when a slang dictionary described it as “The percentage allowed by drapers to their young men when they effect sale of old fashioned or undesirable stock.

It sprang up again in an 1890 article in the Pall Mall Gazette – “a ‘spiff’ system is usually adopted, spiffs being premiums placed on certain articles, not of the last fashion, indicated by a marvelous hieroglyphic put on the price ticket. These marks are well known by the assistant, and the almost invisible mystic sign explains why an article, wholly unsuitable, is foisted on the jaded customer as ‘just the thing.'”

It should be noted that acronyms didn’t fall into common usage until the mid 20th century and barely existed at all in the 1800s.

The acronym “SPIFF” should be banished to the realms of all the other false acronyms including “Port Outbound Starboard Home” and “Store High In Transit”.

There, rant over. Spread the word, people!

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiff

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=Spiff

http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-spi2.htm

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/spiff

OED entry:

1859 Slang Dict. 98 Spiffs, the percentage allowed by drapers to their young men when they effect sale of old fashioned or undesirable stock. 1890 Pall Mall G. 2 April 3/2 To balance this network of penalties a ‘spiff’ system is usually adopted, spiffs being premiums placed on certain articles, not of the last fashion.

Hence spiff v.1 trans., to allow a certain sum as commission on (an article). 1891Ironmonger 19 Sept. 387 A ‘job’ chandelier, not very unsaleable, may be ‘spiffed’, say 1s., but a more unsaleable one should bear a higher sum.

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