Operation Vanity Plate: Trying to Crack the Code

Like dandelions in spring, vanity license plates are popping up everywhere in our town. Trying to figure out what these often cryptic combinations of letters mean can be a lot of fun. And challenging, too! Some are funny, some are a puzzle, and some will forever defy explanation.

But the efforts to squash lots of meaning into a few letters and numbers are always creative.

In just a few weeks of tabulating, I covered several sheets of note paper as I spotted and jotted. I didn't hit any light poles or rear-end another vehicle, but I either had to be quick about it or try to memorize two or three expressions until I could take time to write.

After compiling them, I realized that I could put them in categories. The "jobs" heading had the most entries. Two of my favorite plates - AEIOU and TECHA - point to education, of course. I saw a couple relating to church work, UU REV and SPIRE. NURSN is obvious, as are SEWING, LAWNS, POETS, TOP FLT, and DIVA. ZOOM might refer to a photographer. I'll never know for sure, and A WORD can only be guessed at. Is it a writer, reporter, court stenographer? You decide.

Those with hobbies love these plates. I listed BIRDER, BIRDS, and QUAIL - all in one field in a manner of speaking. Then there was X A SIZE, T TIME, FELINE, and SNO-SURF.

Business names are rarer, but I did spot LOB CO for that succulent product of Maine waters and CUTAWAY for a hairdresser.

I chuckled at the ones that described their vehicles, such as RM ENUFF, which is attached to a large van, and another equally big van that is ALL 4 SONS. Not surprisingly, THND is on a huge, red truck with massive tires, and LV BUG is, you guessed it, on the new Volkswagen Beetle. I listed ZIP ZIP here, too, as it could describe the owner's road habits. Some of my friends would easily qualify for that one.

Proper names and nicknames proliferate, and some of the individuals have chosen cleverly. There is LUNE for my friend Claire, WEBSTER for Daniel (honest!), BAPA for the name the grandchildren have given to their Grandpa, SHANTI, TOM-ROS, ME & MUGSY, DEN & JEN, BROWNEE, GNAT (could that be for Natalie?) and MCHOOP - the name the locals use for a shopkeeper downtown. One day I saw FLOW and could not decide if he worked for the water company or if it was a she and the FLO plate had already been taken.

Place names abound, too, and there are several variations on our Maine locale, such as KBUNK, KPORT, 04043 and 04046. I saw CANADA, LCK MILS (for Locke Mills), and BERMUDA, that one seen, aptly enough, on a sun-drenched day affixed to a convertible with the top down.

Expressions meaningful to the owners are often seen, and my list includes CPE DIEM, KRAZZY, IM 29 2, STRIVE, CHAOS, TICKLES, and ALL OUT. I know the secret to the last one. The children are grown and "all" have left the nest.

Initials are seen frequently, and one plate has a dual message. It reads BCK-PCK, which I take to mean either backpack or a couple's initials. TK UR PK.

Oftentimes, two cars in the same family have plates that go together, and I like the GULL and BUOY, husband-wife pair of plates.

There are some that pose a conundrum for me and perhaps were chosen just for that reason - to be a private matter. I could not figure out GANEA, AF 10 NE, YOSK, and SIM-ONE. Wait a minute. I think I just solved the latter one. The "O" is long, so it must go in the names category.

How does my vanity plate read? I don't have one, preferring to stick with my four-digit number, which is probably a form of vanity in its own way. AMAZIN.

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