SPL PDQ or Else!

Excuse the twirling eyeballs -- I've just come from a small windowless room where twelve earnest people were all discussing our EVA under GAAP as a function of our NPW in AY vs. CY with a side dish of PEs for ECs, UW discipline, and the CID/PID SSCs' SP framework. Then we talked about ETS, LBMS, and the new IT SAS. "No wait, isn't SAS a kind of software?" one person asked, "Yes, so they changed the name to IT SA to avoid confusion," another person replied.

To avoid confusion. What a lovely goal. As I was leaving the meeting, one person noticed that I was looking disoriented and suggested that I call HR's EAP. ("EEP!" I thought.) But before I called for a therapist, I decided to sit down in a nearby cube for a moment. I saw a small plaque on the wall: "ACRONYM-FREE ZONE" -- and I relaxed.

We do it without thinking. We fall into the habit of this alphabet shorthand for common things. The problem is, when we do it without thinking, these mysterious codes can doom our attempt to communicate efficiently -- our listeners haven't a clue what we're talking about. And when we fail to think clearly in this way, we force our long-suffering listeners to ask, "What does SSEB (or PIR, or BRM, or EE, or ASA) mean?" And that may require more courage or energy (or interest) than they have.

Acronyms are okay if you think before you use them: graceless, ugly, hard to remember, but okay. If you aren't thinking about your audience when you use them, they drive a stake through the heart of communication. And they can intimidate, create resentment, make you look pompous and condescending, and cause tooth decay. Well, they won't really cause tooth decay. But the arrogant disregard for your listener's ability to understand what you are saying is a kind of relationship rot that you should keep an eye on.

And besides, what are you doing with all this efficiency? It's the time you take to speak your words that gives your listener the time to think about what you are saying. What are you aiming at here: less thought?

Oh, and acronyms on the page! Is there anything less inviting than a paragraph chock-a-block with sterile symbols rather than actual language? An invitation to turn the page!

So, here's a call to clear thinking! Eschew obscure codes! Walk in the sunlight!


*QED stands for "Quod erat demonstrandum." These three letters (meaning "so it is proven") appear at the end of Euclid's mathematical proofs. This has to be one of the oldest acronyms still in use.

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