The Use of Abbreviations and Acronyms

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Thread: The Use of Abbreviations and Acronyms

  1. #1

    The Use of Abbreviations and Acronyms

    This thread is started at the suggestion of Baron.

    Early on my first writing teachers, my grandfather and two local newspaper editors, taught me some rules about the use of abbreviations and acronyms. The basic rule is, when in doubt spell it out. Thus if you are unsure whether all, or nearly all, of your readers will understand the abbreviation or acronym, spell it out.

    Clarification, often requiring repetition, is preferable to misunderstanding. That is the same rule which, my teachers explained, applies to the use of names rather than pronouns.

    Many abbreviations can have two or more meanings. Thus co. can be county or company or country, and st. can be saint or street. Almost always context will make the meaning clear, but in those few instances in which there is the possibility of misunderstanding, the abbreviation should be avoided.

    With acronyms, an explanation needs to be provided the first time the acronym is used. Thus on first reference, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries should be spelt out, followed by its common acronym, MAF, in parentheses. Then on second reference only the acronym need be used. If the Ministry is only mentioned once, then there is no need for the acronym. Internal documents intended only for people in the Ministry may dispense with the full spelling-out of the name in the first reference. Thus context and knowing for whom you are writing helps decide how and when to use abbreviations and acronyms.

    We write to communicate. When what we write fails to make clear to the reader our intent, then we have failed as writers. The careless use of abbreviations and acronyms can cause misunderstanding and confusion.

    The use of an acronym in another board created confusion in my mind. A link provided by The Backward Ox (xO) told me the words represented by the acronym, but did nothing to explain its meaning or intended use.

    Apparently the acronym, judging by its component words and further research, is one that is used in the abbreviated text of the social network circle. Such text appears incomprehensible to the uninitiated. My stumbling efforts to understand how the acronym fit the discussion led to the observation that I'd gone off the rails and I should start a new thread here to discuss the issue.

    When translated with the aid of sites devoted to explaining such acronyms, many of the messages on the social network appear to be on a Dick and Jane level. This raises the question of whether the steady, long-term, use of such textual compression can lead to the loss of a person's ability to understand and express complex ideas. But that is another question for another thread on another day.

    The question also is whether we who profess to be writers should use such techniques as a substitute for writing when we are outside the confines of the social network and texting.

    We also might ask what this all means for the future development of language. A translator some way down the road may render the Iliad in two pages of acronyms.
    El día ha sido bueno. La noche será larga.

  2. #2
    A recent novel of mine had so many acronyms that I decided to have a page at the beginning just as a reference for people to flick back to if they forgot what DHS or FEMA stood for. Of course, I used your method of spelling it out the first time and then having the acronym from then on, Garza. People tend to forget, though, when there are over thirty of them in a book.

    (Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for the uninitiated).
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  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by garza View Post
    With acronyms, an explanation needs to be provided the first time the acronym is used. Thus on first reference, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries should be spelt out, followed by its common acronym, MAF, in parentheses.
    I work on and write a lot marketing materials for technology companies -- so lots of acronyms. This is the convention I've always seen and follow. Organizations and companies -- especially technical people -- tend to talk to themselves and throw around acronyms assuming everyone knows what they mean. I'm always stopping clients mid-sentence or responding to an email -- asking what the heck some acronym means.

    Otherwise, if I come across an acronym in an online conversation, and I don't know what it means, I Google it and have my answer in about 5 seconds. I've never seen it as any sort of problem.

  4. #4
    That's the same system that's used in papers prepared for government or for NGOs, (non-governmental organisations).

    You know, now I think on it, we are all suspicious of the motives of many of the NGOs that operate in developing countries. Some of the environmental protection groups are suspected of being funded by big oil. One charitable organisation that operated in Belize for a number of years turned out to be running guns to nations south of us and trading the guns for drugs. What if one of the NGOs, or a combination of two or three, were bent on taking over all the resources that lie outside the physical boundaries of developed countries? Might be a good story, or has it already been done?
    El día ha sido bueno. La noche será larga.

  5. #5
    If you google for acronyms that stand for technical terms, government agencies, NGOs, and the like, there is no problem.

    My problem started when I googled for lmfao and got a page full of references to a band. Then xO gave me a link. That took me to a page that told me what the words are, but that didn't help. The words do not appear to have any relationship with the subject of the thread. It was, and is, as meaningless as ever.

    Edit - Apologise for double post.
    El día ha sido bueno. La noche será larga.

  6. #6
    I don't know what to tell you, Garza. 90% of people who use the internet know what lmfao means -- so people use it freely without feeling that it needs to explained. I'm sure the first time I came across it, however many years ago, I either Googled it or asked someone what it meant. This is how we learn new things.

    Otherwise, when a word, phrase or acronym falls into common usage, and if there is some question, the onus to find clarification is on the person who doesn’t know the meaning – not the person who is using it.
    Last edited by JosephB; April 17th, 2011 at 06:45 PM.

  7. #7
    Seconded about internet/text speak/abbreviations/accronyms/etc. Abbreviations might not be immediately recognisable but it's not that difficult for an enquiring mind to do some searching and dot joining to figure things out. I never used to know what lol or lmfao meant but I hunted down translations through Google and now I do. It's not that big of a deal, right?

  8. #8
    Okay Okay Okay. This was the first time I've seen lmfao. I don't twit. I don't face. I don't text. I don't hang out in any other forum, and if I've seen it here I don't remember. I found out what the five words are early this morning. They mean nothing in the context of the thread where they appeared. It is a phrase that everyone says 'oh everyone knows what that means' but no one has been able or willing to explain what it means. Thus I can only assume it is a nonsense phrase that has no meaning. So forget it. If it's meaningless it's not important.
    El día ha sido bueno. La noche será larga.

  9. #9
    I means that whoever wrote it is "laughing their ass off" ("Laughing My F-ing Ass Off) at something funny in the thread..... I don't get what's so confusing? Has no one ever really "been willing" to explain it to you? If so, that is funny... and odd.

    Good post about abbreviations and acronyms in writing... I don't really like to do it much myself. I can't even think of a time I would have used an acronym in my writing, but there may have been one here or there. I'll pay attention to it from now on just to see.

  10. #10
    There was nothing funny in the thread. That's what's confusing. I found the words early on. They are meaningless in context. That's what I had wanted to have explained, how they can mean something in a context in which there is nothing to laugh at. I'm no longer interested. I spent most of the morning researching case law in Mississippi regarding day for day sentencing to help a young pre-law student at the University of Mississippi. I have membership in sites he cannot access over the weekend, and managed to find five judgements from the Mississippi Supreme Court that he can use. That is what the Internet is for.
    El día ha sido bueno. La noche será larga.

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