TMA - too many acronyms

January 26, 2016

Every industry seems to love jargon, acronyms and abbreviations. Working with the web, it’s hard to avoid an alphabet soup of technology names. In my former life as an aspiring sound engineer, I was surrounded by people who would talk in model numbers of microphones and loudspeakers. I’ve sat in pubs with friends from all kinds of professions, and conversations between colleagues are often impenetrable. Perhaps there’s something deliberate there - a conscious or subconscious desire to separate the initiates from the newbies, to keep knowledge within the inner circle.

What’s the value of acronyms and abbreviations, anyway? Presumably the point is to save time and effort for the person using them. But if the abbreviation isn’t well-known or obvious, it asks additional effort of the person reading or hearing them. So I’m making a plea for people to show more empathy for their listeners, and just say no to acronyms.

I don’t want to be an old stick-in-the-mud, decrying young people for using text-speak. I appreciate that language is a wonderful swirling shifting miasma, evolving through time and space into new and interesting forms.

Used judiciously, acronyms can be elegant and efficient. There are also some interesting multi-layered or recursive acronyms. The point about acronyms is that they require a context, and if the speaker and the listener don’t share the same context, the abbreviation can cause confusion. Cultural differences inevitably mean that the implicit context will differ, perhaps subtly, perhaps drastically, and it can be difficult for the writer to know the context of the reader.

A lot of my colleagues are in or from India, and there seems to be a tendency for them to use abbreviations even more than my British colleagues. The trouble is that they’ll often use acronyms that aren’t in common use in Britain. A lot of the time, I suspect that the acronyms aren’t even in common use in India - a lot of organisations and small social groups evolve their own internal language.

On an instant messenger conversation a while ago, an Indian colleague used WC to mean “You’re welcome” - it took me quite a while to figure out that they weren’t randomly saying toilet, although a quick internet search suggests that their usage is more common.

Another one that confused me was a series of references to a D-STUM - no amount of Googling could help me to figure out that the person was talking about a Daily STand Up Meeting. That one was a real WTF.