Light is Right Joe Campbell

Light is Right Joe Campbell

Please don’t breed any more acronyms and initialisms. The speed with which they increase and multiply overwhelms me. Trying to figure out what these abbreviations mean, or don’t mean, is like puzzling over quotes from an unfamiliar language.

Oh, I realize that some acronyms are widely understood, like OPEC, a political cartel and AIDS, a political disease. Why, they’re so commonplace that many who know what the words mean don’t know what the letters stand for. That is, they don’t know that the words are acronyms.

In my experience, these are the exception. The rule is that when I meet an acronym while reading, I have to backtrack several paragraphs to re-learn what it’s about. This is what happened when I met SLAMRAAM, or surface launched advanced medium range air-to-air missile. For writers, acronyms may save time. For readers, they waste it.

As they outnumber acronyms, initialisms waste more of it. Because they don’t form pronounceable words, but consist of individually pronounced letters, they are more easily birthed. As a result, they’re as prolific as roaches, a label I profoundly hope has not yet become an acronym. As with acronyms, some initialisms are widely understood, like IQ, which measures intelligence and SM, which defies it. Again, these are the exception.

I suppose you can’t blame the American Army for wanting to shorten Human Resources Command Chief Information Office Strategic Planning Branch. But the initialism, HRCCIOSPB, is more irritating than the title. The same goes for DGMHRPP, which the Canadian Armed Forces adopted for Director General Military Human Resources Policy and Planning. If they can’t think of shorter abbreviations, both should consider shorter titles. Maybe lack of imagination limits military human resources culture.

Complex initialisms are not only irritating but tiring. You are no doubt familiar with LGBT, which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. Well, it’s out of date. Champions of psychosexual disorders have added QIA+, which stands for queer, intersex, asexual and others. But this sleep-inducing initialism is remarkably flexible, as the T can also stand for transsexual and two-spirited, the Q for questioning, the A for agender and the + for anything. In the meantime, I’ll settle for LGBTQIA+zzzz. Wake me when it’s over.

Sharing initialisms is unavoidable. I imagine that the Canadian Automobile Association doesn’t mind sharing CAA with the Clean Air Act. Linking fossil fuelled cars with clean air could be a public relations coup. But I can’t imagine that South African Airways enjoys sharing SAA with Sex Addicts Anonymous. Links like that could be a public relations embarrassment.

I’m not sure what to make of ABA, which the American Bar Association and the American Beverage Association share. Whether either is comfortable with the linkage is unclear. On the one hand, bars and beverages enjoy a happy relationship. On the other hand, members of the bar often take legal action against consumers of beverages, including fellow members of the bar.

Although it looks like an acronym, VIP is an initialism, as you pronounce the letters individually. But that’s of little significance, because virtually everyone knows that VIP stands for very important person. More significant is that it also stands for volunteers in policing, virtual internet provider and veterans independence program, among many others, including two bands, Vanilla Ice Posse and Voices in Public. If you qualify for the VIP lounge, don’t expect an exclusive experience.

Most Canadians know what CBC stands for. That’s right, Christmas bird count. Oh, and it’s also short for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, not to mention criminal background check, Cannabis Buyers Club and car battery charger, among other entities and activities too numerous to list.

As a former police reporter, I sometimes fantasize about writing a story featuring a pot smoking TV newscaster and amateur birder who fails to escape arrest because a low battery causes his car to stall. I suspect I could work one or more CBCs into every sentence.

I’m not naïve enough to think that written languages can escape acronyms and initialisms. Spoken, but unwritten, tongues might be able to. But not languages like ours. Too many of us lack the discipline to write uncluttered prose.

I can dream, though. One of my rosiest dreams is of writers combining to eliminate the pesky abbreviations. Day after day, we systematically slay them until the last one standing is RIP, which we leave as a warning.