The expansion of our English language is not only a direct result of the integration of slang into our vocabulary, but also the trend of making altogether too many common phrases or compound terms into acronyms and over-using these acronyms in both written and spoken word.
Breaking stride mid-sentence, we exchange several words we were going to speak with a spoken three or four letter acronym, as if the acronym was a real word. This “exchange policy” becomes automatic to the point where we don’t think about it, we just do it. There’s a decision that has to be made in the brain as to whether or not to use an acronym or the literal “translation” thereof. And this decision is determined by other decisions: who we are talking to, whether or not the person will understand the acronym, among others. Finally, in a matter of nanoseconds, the acronym is chosen.
We sprinkle our sentences with acronyms as a diner with an unsophisticated palate would over-season his or her food. We spit out compound acronyms and cast a spell of self-importance and superiority. We’re a silly lot, we humans.
Listening to the radio or watching television provides plenty of examples of folks all wrapped up in steaming hot bowls of acronym soup. Life used to be so much simpler when we only had alphabet soup.
In the preparation of this piece, a
referral to The Dictionary was necessary. I’m not known for having
great spelling skills and am not too proud to frequently visit the
works of Webster. Dyslexia was the target for one of my more recent
quests. It was during this seach for the word “dyslexia” that I came to
the startling realization that it’s time to buy a new dictionary, as
the word did not reside in the edition of Webster’s that graces my
We use acronyms as if they were real words. But what defines a real word? A visit to a well worn dictionary, its fabric faced covers lovingly stained with years of accumulated oil from hands taking it from the bookshelf, opening, closing, and returning to the shelf, provides the following:
WORD: an articulate sound or series of sounds which symolizes and communicates an idea: the smallest unit of speech that has meaning when taken by itself.
ABBREVIATION: act or result of making make briefer; to reduce or shorten, as words, by contraction or by omission, sometimes by substitution.
ACRONYM: a word formed from the initial letters or syllables of the successive parts of a compound term. Acronymic, acronymize
Here’s a list of but a few arenas and
respective acronyms and abbreviations I’ve stumbled across over the
past few days.
Our Uncle is overflowing with acronyms for various departments, branches, agencies and services. To wit:
everyday lives of everyday people
enter the internet
Contrary to what some may think, acronym-like abbreviations used in Internet chat rooms weren’t invented there. Perhaps the best known abbreviation, SOS, is, of course, radioman shorthand for “Save Our Ship,” a message frantically tapped out on a telegraph key and broadcast over the airwaves from the Titanic and other like-doomed vessels.
Morse’s code first ushered in abbreviations and acronyms used by landline telegraphy operators working for companies like Western Union. Then with the marriage of Morse Code and Marconi’s invention of the radio, communications between distant points without interconnecting wires became commonplace, and even more electronic shorthand was born.
And radio teletype systems were the first vehicles for the exchange of emoticons (emotional icons) – smilies and winks – in the form of ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) characters. You see, although the Internet is relatively new, it has roots that go all the way back to the 1800s.
Here are a few chat room abbreviations you may be familiar with:
I remember an editor once taking me under his wing and advising: ”Jeff, you have to know your audience. But if you aren’t sure of your audience’s level of understanding, you have to define abbreviations. Think of mathematics and lowest common denominator when writing to the masses.” And this brings us to the inevitable.
“hello 911? I’d like to report an acronym collision”
We’re going to be needing a lot of Alphabet Ambulances, or AAs (not to be confused with the acronym for members of Alcoholics Anonymous) because there are going to be many acronym collisions in our future, as an acronym can have more than one meaning.
I’ve fallen prey to using one abbreviation or acronym only to find out later that the letter combination also serves a completely different collection of words. Curiosity got the best of me on this, so the search was on for more. Here is a very brief list of some acronym/abbreviation collisions gleaned from searching the Internet with the keywords “common acronyms,” and the collisions thereof.
And now for a couple of my personal favorites:
Hopefully the term “acronym collision” won’t be acronymized, because there is already a long standing acronym AC, an abbreviation used in the electrical field for alternating current. However, the thoughts of the new term “acronym collision” causing an acronym collision is just too delicious to not ponder: AC causing an AC with AC. Yikes!
One source on the Internet, and I’ll be damned if I can’t find it now, reported a general rule of thumb when using acronyms that went something like, “when using acronyms, writers are advised to use both the acronym and the literal translation so as to avoid confusion.”
This would be especially important to writers paid by the word, because money is money, and if you’re paid by the word you may as well load ‘em up! Hell, I am usually ROFLMFAO (rolling on floor, laughing my freaking ass off) when I do a word count on an essay, knowing full well that I’ve spiked the punch with a healthy helping of acronyms and their requisite definitions ...
I think I’m finished. No, I’m not ...
Though perhaps inappropriate to end this
with an oddball observation, I can’t help wonder how many dyslexics
quickly glanced at the title of this piece and muttered to themselves,
“That’s a silly title: ‘My Acorn Soup.’”
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