Do you know what I’m really tired of? Besides, shortfalls in education budgets, short-sighted environmental policy, political bickering, hyperbole, and demagoguery.
I’m tired of acronyms.
The intention of an acronym is to reduce space in writing. Once a long name, like the Association for the Proliferation of Acronyms, has been established in a document, the writer can save space by using AFTPOA from then on. Makes sense. All the reader has to do if they forget what AFTPOA stands for is jog back in the article to where the name was first used.
It comes as no surprise that such shorthand would find its way into advertising and promotion. We all know that PETA, for example, is an organization that defends animal rights, but who remembers that it stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals? No need to; having “PET” in the shortened name makes it even better. Even PETA doesn’t use their full title in their own materials.
NATO is NATO whenever it’s referred to. It is really the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Except in France where it is OTAN: The Organization of Treaty for the Atlantic North. French acronyms, it appears, are simply English ones in reverse.
And maybe those are two easy ones that most people do recognize for their full titles, but acronyms have nevertheless transcended from written pages to spoken language. The idea of saving time trumps all other forms of communication, but there is a virus within the body of shortcut language: When you don’t know what the acronym stands for, not only is time lost, but so is understanding.
There is nothing new about Acronym-mania. The AFL-CIO has been using theirs for over 60 years. And to be honest, saying “The American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, is a mouthful. But do we really need to know their full title to understand that AFL-CIO is a labor union? No.
I belong to SAG and AFTRA (since merged to SAG-AFTRA), but again, knowing that they are labor organizations in the entertainment industry is enough without spelling out Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists every time.
These are cases that illustrate exactly why acronyms became popular, even necessary. My issue here is when they replace language as part of language itself when, in fact, they are not.
In my advertising career we throw around ROI, DMS, SPAM, BR, ASP, CR, CRM, CPL and MOM and expect everyone to understand what we mean as clearly as “Pass the salt.” The other day an employee came up to mean to say: “I didn’t know what AGI meant for 2 years. All I knew was that I was responsible for some of it.”
In health care we are always talking about HMO’s, MCO’s, the NIC, HIPPA and HHR. It is assumed that if you are at a meeting within any discipline that you have taken a course in that industry’s Abbreviation Program and will use these letters just as you would call the family dog.
“That’s a good, HIPPA!”
No one wants to appear uninformed, and in fact, the truly informed love to show how informed they are by using the acronym vernacular. As a result, very few people will ever volunteer: “Could you explain what you meant when you said ‘The ACU challenged the ACLU responding to the DCCC regarding the CBO assessment of the ECU analysis of the GNP’?”
The trend to abbreviate isn’t going to change; it satisfies too many of our instincts. One is to shorten everything, another is to make ourselves exclusive whenever possible. There is a satisfaction that is realized when we speak an esoteric tongue understood only by those “in the know.”
This little essay isn’t a reprimand with even the slightest hope that Acronym Fever will ever subside, but it is a caution. In our progression to abbreviate language, we can also abbreviate understanding. In the effort to save time, we can lose time.
How’s that for a PSTMOT? Oh….that’s a pithy statement to make one think.