I don’t like acronyms because they get in the way of clear communication. Unfortunately, I work in an industry that loves them. Even my best marketers have the irresistible urge to turn every project, every product, and every position into an acronym.
There are so many acronyms that no one can keep them straight. Here at work we used to have an internal portal page that listed popular acronyms but the authors stopped updating the page a few years ago when it became a full-time job.
As an example of the confusion, which of the following does BPM stand for?
- Business performance management
- Business process management
- Business policy management
If you’re a musician, you might have been thinking beats per minute.
The rise of social media has exacerbated this problem. Instant messaging, texting, and 140-characters tweets all place a premium on space. Lol, ttfn, brb are just a few abbreviations which have skyrocketed in use over the last few years. There’s even a debate on what the abbreviation for social media should be. We are drowning in acronym soup.
Over time, some acronyms have entered the national consciousness, obscuring the original meaning. NASA and IBM come to mind. Sonar is now a recognized word. The military term fubar (often mistakenly spelled foobar by computer types) might have a legitimate case. In my industry, ERP might qualify while PLM and SCM probably don’t.
However, unless a phrase appears repeatedly in written text, an acronym is usually more confusing to a reader than spelling it out. My rule of thumb is that an acronym should appear at least three times in one page to be justified.
While I am willing to be a little lenient in written text, I’m much more vigilant when it comes to the spoken word. Readers can return to a specific section of text if they are confused; there’s no rewind in live speech. Anderson Cooper was probably trying to be both ironic and hip when he asked “WTF, B.O.B.?” commenting on rapper B.O.B.’s singing to passengers over a plane’s public address system. The rest of us can’t pull this off. Miller Beer has even parodied this trend:
BTW, most of the examples above aren’t even really acronyms. Acronyms are pronounceable like NASA or sonar. Simple letter abbreviations are called initialisms.
Are you ROTFL yet?
Note: Source of the acronym soup image is unknown.