Monday, October 20, 2014

Spell It Out

Post by Jenny 

I was almost finished writing this post about acronyms when I read Sarah Sullivan’s Wednesday post about the same topic. First I thought, that's a strange coincidence, but great minds do think alike. Then I thought, whew, I’m not the only one who feels that “today’s language is so littered with acronyms that it’s hard to keep up.” Thank you, Sarah!

Earlier in the year, as international terrorism was again raising its ugly head, I made the whispered, after-dark confession to my husband that I didn’t know what ISIS stood for. As soon as I got straight on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, it became ISIL. Now it is IS. Or maybe it ISn’t. Depends on who you ask. 

Acronyms are nothing new. I grew up with NASA, SCUBA, and ELO. But we’re apparently such busy people now that we’re relying more and more on this shortcut. No one is spared. Though POTUS, FLOTUS, and SCOTUS have been used by Washington insiders for years, they have more recently leaked into the country’s everyday vernacular. But I draw the line. I refuse to refer to some of the world’s most powerful and influential people by acro-names that remind me of a mining byproduct, marine debris, and a canine skin condition, in that order.

The other day, after I ran across two unfamiliar acronyms in quick succession—HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and OIAJ (Oatmeal in a Jar)—I thought, that’s it. I cannot keep up. I don’t want to have to keep guessing whether any seemingly random grouping of letters refers to an organization of global importance, an infectious agent, or a sly teenage code my sons might use in a text.

So, I must respectfully request that more people return to spelling things out. Replacing real words with shortened mash-ups may save time for whoever is writing the magazine article/news copy/Zits comic strip, but it costs me that plus more in internet search time. Because I can’t just let it go. I must know, for example, that PDIC stands for Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation. Or is it Professional Diving Instructors Corporation? (Hint: it’s both.)

When my 8th grade son, who is learning German, rattled off the word for 9,999 (neuntausendneunhundertneunundneunzig), I felt a little giddy. All those letters, and nary a hyphen among them. It made me want to find a way to work antidisestablishmentarianism into this post. And there, I just did.


Are acronyms a help or hindrance to your reading and writing?


5 comments:

Richard Keller said...

I'm curious when POTUS became familiar to the public. I know the very first episode of "The West Wing" was when I heard the term.

Sarah Sullivan said...


Seriously? OIAJ??? This is madness! and I had to look up SCOTUS. I think you can say supreme court just as quickly, not that I'm in THAT much of a hurry. I also studied German and loved to say the word for speed limit which is das geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung. I would write the longest word in the german language, but alas, there isn't room. If only there were an acronym....

Michelle Mach said...

In my work as a book editor, most of the emails from the publisher contain at least one acronym. The one I most recently learned was PCM = photo concept memo.

P.S. You nailed the ending to this post. :)

Jenny said...

Rich, I read somewhere that it was during the Carter administration, but I didn't hear it until much later. I was way too young to care about politics then :-)

Sarah, I love that word for speed limit. I can't imagine how long a German spelling bee would take...

Thanks, Michelle! Now I'm going to Google photo concept memo...

Shirley Drew said...

Great post, Jenny! I am especially uncomfortable when my students use acronyms OR unfamiliar words...I pretend to know, then I run back to my office and look them up on Urbandictionary.com

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