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Acronyms Have Become a Language in Their Own “Write”

Margaret Thatcher: TINA, There is No Alternative - US Dept of Defense
Officialdom, bureaucracy, media and people love acronyms, especially when they make a word that stands alone and means what the abbreviation actually is.

The use of abbreviations to describe lengthy organisational names and regularly used terms in daily life has become well established. RAM (Random Access Memory) is universal in computers. Politics has embraced them wholesale. GOP is equally: Grand Old Party, Gallant Old Party or God’s Own Party. ACLU is American Civil Liberties Union and in the UK SNP is readily acknowledged as Scottish National Party. FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States), GOTV (Get Out the Vote) and WaPo (Washington Post) need little explanation in the USA.

In the currency of communication across boundaries, an agreed, concise and comprehensible way of describing complex issues and structures is essential. It’s crucial in politics and its bed-mate, the media. Abbreviations and alphabetisms are a handy way of coding.

Political and Economic Acronyms

Acronyms such as FOREST (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco), NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic Timely), PIN (Personal Identification Number) and MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) have become familiar parts of the language landscape. Each generation in politics and current affairs generates its own terminology.

MARILYN (Manning and Recruitment in the Lean Years of the Nineties) was the first intimation that an aging population would soon outnumber younger workers (and taxpayers) by several times, in the 1990s. TINA (There Is No Alternative) became the justification for Conservative economic monetary policies in the UK during the 1980s and 90s.

NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) and its linguistic-evolution NIMBYISM described opposition to a planning or economic development (like new homes or wind farms near somebody’s open space or view). Often the objectors approved the principle of the development; they just didn’t want it near them: a dog-in-the-manger approach.

YUPPIES were Young Urban Professionals and DINKS were Double Income, No Kids – youngish urban professionals enjoying the economic profligacies of the last years of the 20th century. Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, embraced a female name to explain his rules of economics on public borrowing: Prudence. It was not officially an acronym, but people came up with their own from sensible to satirical, including Preferred Restraint Under Difficult Economic Needs & Choices Exercised.

In the autumn of 2010, Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, claimed that the NICE (Non-Inflationary Consistent Expansion) decade of the first years of the 21st century was over, giving way to a new SOBER period (Savings, Orderly Budgets, Equitable Rebalancing).

Multi-Use of Special Terminology (MUST)

Many acronyms are shared. For example, RADAR (Radio Detection And Ranging) has become an accepted word, radar, standing alone as a noun in aviation and military usage. However, it also stands for: Royal Association for Disability And Rehabilitation (London, England); Regional Alcohol and Drug Awareness Resource; Rational Assessment of Drugs and Research (Australia); Register of Australian Drug and Alcohol Research (Australia); Rural AIDS and Development Action Research (South Africa); and Radio Association Defending Airwave Rights.

RADAR is also Reflective Agents with Distributed Adaptive Reasoning; Radio’s All-Dimension Audience Research; Rights, Availabilities, Distribution, Analysis, and Reporting; Random Access Digital Audio Recorder; Risk Assessment and Decision Analysis Research Group (Queen Mary and Westfield College, London, England); Resource And Data Activity Repository and Removing Aggressive Drivers and Road Rage.

The advent of emails, text-speak and electronic abbreviations have given birth to a range of new acronyms in communication and finance, such as LOL (Laugh Out Loud, or Lots Of Love), ATM (At This Moment, as well as Automated Teller Machine), OMG (Oh my God!), B4N (Bye For Now) and B2B (Business to Business). Some reflect a modern, cynical world-weary life view: BTDT (Been There, Done That) with its appendix GTTS (Got the T-Shirt), BTOBD (Be There or Be Dead) or CRAFT (Can’t Remember a Flipping Thing).

In the 1960s SCUM (The Society for Cutting Up Men) pushed forward a radical, serious feminist agenda. The Simpsons TV series played comically with an acronym from Springfield Heights Institute of Technology. In medicine, military and general slang, acronyms have become ubiquitous. In between the deadly serious and the funny, they become a habit, a party game of making up short-hand descriptors, the clearer the better, as plain speaking is essential, unless language is mangled for more poetic reasons.

There are more than four million acronyms and abbreviations in use so far. And every day, people somewhere invent new ones: an acronym (A Clever Round-up Of New Young Meaningless/Meaningful Sayings) for every occasion.

First published on Suite 101, 27 October 2010.

Photo: Margaret Thatcher: TINA, There is No Alternative – US Dept of Defense

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