The way to understand the U.S. is to understand its capital city. To do that, you have to understand acronyms. London is London. Rome, Rome. Paris, Paris. Great cities, all. But if I’ve learned anything in the year since we moved to the capital of the U.S., I’ve learned this: They’d be even better with an acronym after their name. Thankfully for North Americans, the founding fathers in their wisdom and prescience anticipated the rise of impenetrable linguistic self-importance (or, ILSI, which doesn’t spell anything and doesn’t even sound good, which is why you’ve never heard of it). They gave us Washington, D.C. At the time, the founding fathers may not have seemed so wise or prescient. That’s because, after looking out at the vast territory of their infant country, surveying to the horizon its gorgeous woodlands, bustling cities, pristine coastlines, and lovely plains, they proclaimed, “We are going to make the capital of this great new nation of ours not in an existing city — that would be too easy — and not on the coast where it will serve as a great port — that would be too logical. No, we are going to establish the center of government right here, upriver, near pretty much nothing, on this fly-infested patch of malarial swamp!” But their loyal countrymen doubtless hailed the decision, saying, “They’re gonna do what?” In what would become a grand American tradition, they then shrugged, shook their heads, and uttered in disbelief a single word, “Government.” And so a great consensus was born. My theory is that the founding fathers were big kidders with a sense of irony. Suspicious of authority as they were, to put the seat of power in a swamp was kind of a little in-joke, a metaphor for the mire that is politics. I could be wrong. Maybe they chose to put the capital in a swamp because, in the immortal words of Redskins coach Steve Spurrier when explaining why he recruited quarterbacks who had performed poorly elsewhere in the NFL, the land was “cheap and available.” Whatever the reason, the founding fathers then decided, in their wisdom and prescience, to make a really long name out of the new capital. Washington, District of Columbia. No one knew what Columbia was, and still don’t. Was it a state? A county? What? And, Columbia? What’s up with that? Why not District of America? Or District of the Area Between Maryland and Virginia? And why District? That makes it seem like there were several areas, or, uhm, districts, in this place called Columbia. But there was no place called Columbia, except this “District of.” So why didn’t they just call it Washington of Columbia? The answer, of course, is self-evident: Washington, C., just isn’t as cool as Washington, D.C. They knew they had to have another letter. Which is why they were wise and prescient, even if people around the globe were left shaking their heads. But confusion is a good thing. It keeps others from having any earthly idea why you do the things you do. This keeps them guessing as to what crazy thing you’ll do next. It is a strategy that, through the years, Americans have perfected. Confusion, though, is only one of the wise and prescient motives behind naming the nation’s capital with an acronym. Another was that it was modernist, which the founding fathers had never heard of, but which they obviously were. For modernism is all about acronyms. Old countries were known by their full names. France, not F. Spain, not S. Even the two-word Great Britain wasn’t initialed down to G.B. Nor did any other country feel compelled to identify itself as part of a continent. It’s not Japan of Asia or Denmark of Europe, like some blue-blooded family — the Winthrops of Nantucket — or an English tailor — Harrington of Saville Row. No, Americans came up with that: the United States of America. Then we banged it down to a nice, cool-sounding USA. It was the first KFC of countries. It was Michael Jordan as MJ. In fact, with the clarity of retrospect here in the 21st century, I think we can see that if the 20th century was about anything, it was about the rise of acronyms. Why else did John Lennon’s famous song, the title of which I can’t recall, resonate so much with listeners? No, it wasn’t “Imagine.” It was that other song. No, not, “Maybe I’m Amazed”; that was Paul. It was that song where he screams out, “The FBI.” (Pause.) “And the CIA.” And I think he screams out some other acronyms, too. The point is, sure, I don’t remember the title of the song or even the song itself. But I do remember him screaming those acronyms. I can’t say with certainty, but I’m guessing there weren’t a lot of guys yelling acronyms during the fugues or waltzes or whatever our forefathers were shaking their wigs to during the Revolutionary era. That’s what made our founding fathers wise and prescient. They knew that John Lennon would be screaming acronyms and even though he was British, he would live in New York, and they wanted him screaming his acronyms from these shores. The future belonged to acronyms. And so today, the nation’s capital is populated with G-12s who work at USDAs in divisions with names like LMNOP. They reside on streets with N.W. or S.E. after their names, the city being divided into indecipherable quadrants, and go watch MJ at the MCI Center. That is, when they’re not standing in line at the most feared acronym in town, the DMV, officially known as the Department of Motor Vehicles, but commonly known only by its shudder-inducing three-letter acronym, as if to say its full name would be to somehow conjure up its dark and all-powerful spirit. I still have a lot to learn about this place. After a year here, for example, I still don’t know whether it should be DC or D.C. or Washington comma DC or what. So I do what I always do — leave the punctuation to others. Besides, everyone who lives here just calls it the District.