cronyms… What would the average John Nerd do without them?

For those who have no idea what the word “acronym” means, here’s what we’re going to talk about:

A word (as NATO, radar, or laser) which is formed from the initial letter (or letters) of each of the successive parts (or major parts) of a compound term.

Even some very common words that we daily see and use are in fact not real words, but acronyms.

Best examples are indeed radar and laser.

Radar stands actually for: Radio Detection And Ranging, while Laser stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

So, these two words became such only after people were tired of writing their complete names and started breaking their heads to find a shorter way to put down that whole mouthful.

Why the radar did not became “Rdar” and the Laser “Labseor”, has something to do with the fact that an acronym is not only created to get a shorter version of a collection of words, but also because it must sound “nice” in English.

That is also to say that had they been been invented in a different Country, they might have been called something completely different. The Dutch laser would have probably been called “Ladgevs” (Licht Amplificatie Door Gestimuleerde Emissie Van Straling), though I doubt it would have been a great success in any language…

Some other acronyms are not created to be spoken out as a word, but as a collection of initial letters, like in CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). We don’t say: “this is a matter for the cia”, but “this is a matter for the C-I-A” and pronounce each letter separately.

A different matter is the acronym NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) which is pronounced as a single word and not spelled letter by letter.

And then, we have the computer age…
It has brought us hundreds of new acronyms, some of which have become of such common use that we don’t even read them as a word or as a collection of initial letters, because our brains just translate them and we “think” the long version while we read the short one.

For example… even the most serious post on social media contains at least one answer with a LOL acronym. The acronym is not even pronounced, but in the very moment we read it we also “hear” our brains saying “Laughing out Loud”.

The same is true for WTF (What the fuck) or LMAO (Laughing my ass off) or PBCAK (Problem between chair and keyboard). This last one would be quite a challenge to speak out as a word, even for anyone being proficient in KASL (Klingon as second language).

Then there is also the matter of some the multiple meanings of some acronyms.

Let’s look at one that was already mentioned: NATO.

The first association that comes to mind – that is, the first association that normal people would have – is that with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

That might be… but NATO is used also for the following:

  • Night at the opera (album by Queen)
  • North African Theater of Operations (military)
  • National Association of Theater Owners (in Washington, DC)
  • Not Another Teen Organization (Gaming)

And we could go on like this for hours, but that is not what this post is about.

Generally speaking, I don’t love acronyms at all and whenever possible, I avoid them like the plague.

Unfortunately, I work for an American Company (though I’m European-born and also based in good old Europe, thank all gods and minor deities!) and while it is mainly an educational company (you wouldn’t say), it is also an information technology one and that – together with the tendency to indiscriminately rape the English language that comes so natural to any American – makes my battle against acronyms something like taking up a fight with the The Borg Collective bare-handed (…“Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated”. Does that ring a bell?).

I not only have to read hundreds of e-mails every day, I have also the undisputed pleasure to encounter the most idiotic language errors, coupled to the most misplaced acronyms embellishing each page, making me want to close my eyes and flee into some novel written by a Victorian writer, or Charles Dickens, or William M. Thackeray or one of the Brontë sisters.

Imagine my pleasure each time I see someone (it’s actually almost everyone, for chrissake!) using “its” and “it’s” in the most awful and incorrect way, and then topping it up with the wrong use of an acronym.

Take the following situation (which I must sadly confess, takes place weekly).

Someone screwed something up and thus some piece of previously smoothly working software went totally FUBAR (if you don’t know what it means, Google it). Technology is trying to get Development to code a fix for the problem, ESD (Electronic Software Distribution, I’m not pulling this out of thin air…) is in charge of the deployment and the Help Desk is waiting for instructions on how to apply the fix and verify it’s working.

Dozens of mails are launched at each other, until some good manager – an endangered species – tries to point all noses in the same direction and a lot of miscreants play the game of “if I give a big mouth it may look like it’s not my fault”

At some point or another, someone will eventually pop the question: “Alright people. Do we have the fix, does it work and when can we expect it to be ready for deployment?”.

Right… Even if we keep in mind that Americans cannot speak English, I was horrified to see what an incredible mess someone made of this not even too complex sentence.

It was proudly put in bold by the writer, in order to underline its importance and to have it stand out against the bleak background of the other rubbish he was writing. It went like this:

“Is the fix going to meet it’s ETA and what about the deployment? If its done by today CoB, we’re golden”.

Let’s try to understand what this idiot (who holds a degree in Engineering obtained by attending a so-called American University) is actually committing to (virtual) paper and how he makes an awful mess of it.

Let’s first have a look at it from a grammatical point of view and dissect the whole sentence into easy to understand pieces:

“Is the fix going to meet it’s ETA”.
As it is, this doesn’t make any sense. If ever, you should ask: “Is the fix going to meet its ETA”, because the original sentence simply translates into “Is the fix going to meet it is ETA”, which doesn’t mean shit.

“If its done by today CoB, we’re golden”.
Horribly improper use of the “its”.
“Its” is the possessive form of the neuter pronoun “it”, like “his” is the possessive form of “he” and “hers” is the one for “she”.
So “its” is not the contracted form of pronoun and verb “It is” – that would be “it’s”, with the apostrophe – just like “his” is not the contracted form of “he is”…

An elementary school child should know that but, apparently, American schoolteachers do not devote any time to that, or the students are too thick to grasp this basic but fundamental concept.

And now, let’s even forget about the expression “we’re golden”, which is actually used only in “spoken informal American English”, which is to say that the writer has confused written with spoken American and moreover confuses both with plain English. Well, they’re Americans so you cannot expect them to speak English, can you?

I’m not British, and English is not even my second language (it’s my third, to be precise – and please take note of the proper use of the contracted form of “it is”…) and I don’t have the pretension to be a novel Shakespeare of sorts, but I really get the shivers when I see the English language being brutalized in such a manner.

And now, let’s have a final go at the acronyms and their use.

The lesser awful is CoB, which in this case would stand for “Close of Business”.

Okay. First of all, whose closure? Within an International environment like ours, where any strategy must be firmly lodged in the “follow-the-sun” principle, the closure of a day may vary with the Region or Time Zone the audience resides within. Obviously, Americans are only aware of their own Country; they are the masters of knowing nothing about the rest of the world but pretending to understand it all. So when talking about the CoB in the US (generic), then they should also be aware that their Country spans over several UTC zones, from GMT-11 to GMT-5 and they also totally neglect the notion that the recipients of that communication (which defines a specific time within which this famous “fix” should be ready for deployment) are spread all over the world and therefore have further CoB’s that would fall at totally different times.

Even if we want to let this fact go unnoticed, you should not write “by today CoB” but “by today‘s CoB”.

Last but not least, the sentence: “Is the fix going to meet its (can’t leave that horrible “it’s” there) ETA”.

The use of ETA, or “Estimated Time of Arrival”, should be restricted to something that is expected to travel from A to B in a certain time, or at least to move freely through space and time, like an airplane, a biker, a car, a train or a passenger on any one of those means of transportation, but it should never refer to an inanimate thing or even an abstract inanimate thing, like a software fix.

A software fix does not travel, does not start and does not arrive, therefore it has no “Estimated Time of Arrival”.

Come on… just one short sentence containing no more than 21 words – considering the contracted forms as one, whether used correctly or not – was the source of 5 serious errors, whether it was a pure grammatical error, use of slang or incorrect use of an acronym.

Good Lord! A staggering (or should I say whopping, just to remain in theme) 25% of incorrect use of the English language, that they claim to speak perfectly well.

I’m sure that a true literate coming from the United Kingdom would be able to get more errors out of those 21 words than my humble self with his limited knowledge of English as a third language.

To those people perpetrating the daily massacre of the English language by merely being American, I say (using an acronym freshly minted in my own first language): MCIB,DCNSA (*)

(*) “Ma chiudi il becco, deficiente che non sei altro”, which approximately translates into: “STFU, YM”.

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