You talkin’ to me?

What’s that mumble in the technological jungle, asks Tech Sunday.

We have all been there, heard that and have the mental confusion to show for it. You enter the boardroom and the CEO looks you calmly in the eye and tells you, “I like what you’ve done with your PHP.”

My what?

With acronyms, it’s always a matter of trying to gauge whether they are real or not

Of course, using an acronym like PHP (personal home page) – which hasn’t been used since a nameless Anglo-Saxon poet sat down to write the Nowell Codex – means that your CEO suffers a mental distance of a million light years from Earth.

Yet it also shows how, when used with careless abandon, acronyms work against their intended function, which is to summarise lengthy and mostly technical phrases into clear, concise and efficient lingo.

Of course, we don’t expect anyone to say ‘random access memory’ when they can use RAM or ‘Joint Photographic Experts Group’ for JPEG. The same applies for R&D and other acronyms which we have become so used to that the original words that they stand for have been forgotten.

But neither do we expect to get Monday morning phone calls from a guy in the technical department, telling you to, “Call the DOS and all the BMs for an urgent H2H meeting – the PAV is down.”

Of course, that sentence – which for most of us is as unreadable as Sanskrit – would bring acronym aficionados out in a rash of goosebumps. But would it have burned the tecchie’s lips to say the words flat out. And anyway, with acronyms, it’s always a matter of trying to gauge whether they are real or not. PAV? I have a confession to make – I made that up, but you still went ahead and googled it.

And that’s an even more dire scenario – people making up their own acronyms. Because an acronym being an accepted practice, even if in very limited circles, is one thing. But to have to acknowledge that there are people whose hobby is to invent their own acronyms is another. Whatever happened to stamp collecting or bird watching? And how about when colleagues use acronyms to create another word, like turning ROFL into rofling?

The ultimate question is, why go overboard with acronyms? Is it because you’re not in a talkative mood? Or are you under the false impression that acronyms are a secret code the knowledge of which denotes higher intelligence? In which case, that defies the whole purpose, given that the ultimate function of a word is to transport meaning.


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