“Alphabet soup” is a noodle soup with alphabet-shaped noodles. The soup is cited in print since the 1880s and 1890s.
The New Deal legislation of the 1930s resulted in many new government agencies, such as the TVA, CCC, WPA, FDIC, SEC, and NRA. These lettered agencies were called “alphabet soup” in 1933. The FBI, CIA, NSA and other agencies are still sometimes called “alphabet soup” agencies. These agencies are also sometimes called an “Alphabet Mafia.”
Wikipedia: Alphabet soup (linguistics)
Alphabet soup is a metaphor for an abundance of abbreviations or acronyms, named for a common dish made from alphabet pasta. Use dates at least as far back as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s alphabet agencies of the New Deal. In the United States, the Federal Government is described as an alphabet soup on account of the multitude of agencies that it has spawned, including the NSA, CIA, FBI, USSS, BATF, DEA, NCIS and INS. This phrase is especially used to described the alphabet agencies of the New Deal during the Great Depression. In 1938, a US barbershop harmony organization was founded, aptly named SPEBSQSA or The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc. as a humorous lampoon to these numerous “alphabet soup” agencies.
Wikipedia: New Deal
The “alphabet soup” agencies of the New Deal included the TVA, CCC, WPA, FDIC, SEC and NRA.
Main Entry: alphabet soup
: a hodgepodge especially of initials (as of the names of organizations)
(Oxford English Dictionary)
alphabet soup, a clear soup containing pieces of paste or biscuit shaped like letters of the alphabet.
1907 Black Cat June 15 Alphabet soup—that thin, clear soup, with little noodle or cracker letters in it.
2 October 1880, Colorado Springs (CO) Daily Gazette, pg. 4, col. 5 ad:
Marge Fil’s Macaroni, one pound boxes.
Pates (Pastes?—ed.) and Alphabets for Soup.
8 October 1884, Freeborn County Standard (Albert Lee, MN), pg. 13, col. 5:
From the Rochester Post Express.
At a fashionable resort near Rochester too much French on the bill of fare started and spoiled a first-class romance recently.
She noticed that the young lady dawdled an unconscionable time over the soup with the French designation, and she noticed also that she (the duenne) never received the same kind of soup that was served to her charge. Suspicion was aroused. Could it be that Miss Ida’s soup was made of some potent love charm? SHe would watch. SHe took occasion to mover her chair to Ida’s side and made a discovery that alm,ost paralyzed her virgin heart. THe little particles in Ida’s soup were letters of the alphabet, and on the very first day she read this sentence: S-w-e-e-t, A-l-f-o-n-s-e l-o-v-e-s t-h-e-e-; and this: “I-t-a-l-y- a-w-a-i-t-s h-e-r q-u-e-e-n.”
Cooking for Profit
By Jessup Whitehead
Chicago: Jessup Whitehead & Co.
763—Consomme with Italian Pastes or aux Pates d’ Italia.
It is clear consomme made as for royal (No. 139) with some sort of Italian pastes cooked separately, washed from meal and put in. These are various, such as alphabet pastes of the same material as macaroni stamped in letters or in fancy figures.
The Steward’s Handbook and Guide to Party Catering
By Jessup Whitehead
Chicago, IL: Jessup Whitehead & Co.
Pg. 232, col. 2:
ALPHABET PASTES—For soup; the same paste as macaroni and spaghetti, but stamped into very small letters or ornamental shapes which
swell in boiling. Can be bought in packages, one pound or less. Not expensive.
1894, Table Talk magazine, Volume IX index:
Soup, Alphabets for…279
17 March 1895, Davenport (Iowa)
, pg. 5, col. 2:
Alphabet paste and macaroni at Kerker’s.
13 June 1896, Trenton (NJ) Evening Times, pg. 2, col. 6 ad:
(Commercial Hotel menu—ed.)
Wee Lucy’s Secret
(Little Prudy’s Children)
By Sophie May
Boston, MA: Lee and Shepard
“Alphabet soup!” exclaimed Bab, as they sat down to table; and dipping in her spoon she showed Lucy that the soup was full of white letters, A, B, C, etc.
Mrs. Hale said the letters were cut out of maccaroni.
“Do you think alphabet soup would be nice for my party?” asked Lucy, as she was leaving for home.
“Splendid!” said Bab.
11 May 1909, Salt Lake Herald (Salt Lake City, UT), “American Macaroni” by Frederic J. Haskin, pg. 4, col. 5:
Noodles have lately appeared in a new form, in so-called “alphabet soup.”
27 May 1933, Lowell (MA) Sun, pg. 6, col. 2:
Shipwrecked Professor: “In my own country, you ignorant fools, I’m regarded as a man of letters.”
Cannibal King: ‘Good! Fine! We’ll make you into an alphabet soup.”
3 November 1933, La Crosse (WI) Tribune and Leader-Press, pg. 1, col. 7:
Speakers Hit “Alphabet Soup”
NRA, AAA, RFC
Lucius Wilson, Pinckney, Mich., criticized the RFC, NRA, and AAA, saying they were “alphabet soup—filling but not nourishing.”
1 December 1933, New York (NY) Times, “Smith Denounces Civil Works Plan as Costly “Alibi,’” pg. 1:
Continuing his attacks on the policies of President Roosevelt, former Governor Alfred E. Smith declares in the current issue of the New Outlook, published today, that the Federal civil works program, as devised and being put into effect under the Civil Works Administration, is merely an attempt to cover up the breakdown of the Public Works Administration.
Scoffs at Initials.
Incidentally, the former governor takes occasion to ridicule the new practice of identifying government departments and agencies by their initials, “as a game which beats the cross-word puzzle.”
“Half way between a lemon and an orange is a grapefruit,” writes Mr. Smith: “half way between a public work and a relief work is a civil work. Up to now the Federal establishments, only recently scheduled for consolidation, have been increased to incluide an AAA, an FCA, a PWA, an FERA, an NRA, a CCC, a TVA, an HOLC, an RFC—and now we have a CWA. It looks as though one of the absent-minded professors had played anagrams with the alphabet soup. The soup got cold while he was unconsciously inventing a new game for the nation, a game which beats the cross-word puzzle—the game of identifying new departments by their initials.”