Saturday, March 1, 2014

Beware the acronym: Your message may be LIT (lost in translation)

In 1943, David Davis of Bell Laboratories coined the term acronym as the name for a word created from the first letters of each word in a series of words (such as SCUBA, which stands for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus). Since then, generation after generation has created more and more acronyms, causing more confusion than clarity if you ask me.

IRA could be something you put money into for retirement, or it could be a group of rowdy Irish revolutionaries. IOU stands for I owe you, so in actuality it should be IOY. IEEE could stand for Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers or it could be the sound a hyena makes.

See how confusing it can be? And really, if there’s any truth to evolution, shouldn’t we be getting better at communicating more effectively? Instead, this upcoming generation is adding to the problem with texting acronyms. Thankfully we have a 18-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter to help us navigate our way through the labyrinth of LOLs, TTFNs and BCs or I fear we’d be TL (totally lost).

I got an email the other day that had CYA in the text and it stopped me in my tracks. What does CYA mean? Can you ask? Can Yosef act? Cathy’s yelling again? (Because I know Cathy, and she does have a tendency to yell, but I digress…)

I feel like each year I understand less and less, setting me up to make disastrous mistakes in communicating to the younger set. And I know I’m not alone.

My sister Peg is in the same boat. She is a high school English teacher in Ohio and she’s one of the coolest people I know. Of course she’s a hippie, but in the best sense of the word (meaning she showers regularly but still wears Patchouli and cool clothes). All that to say she’s a pretty hip teacher, with her finger firmly placed on the pulse of teenage culture. So when she was talking to her class about some surprise and told them to “keep it on the LD” she wondered why they all started laughing. “Mrs. G---,” a student said, “I think what you’re trying to say is ‘keep it on the DL – down low.’”

Another teacher came to Peg wondering why students were sprinkling “101” in various places throughout their written work. It took them a while to figure out that students were actually interjecting “LOL,” which stands for laugh out loud.

If this is happening to people my age, I can only imagine what happens to our parents’ generation. One person shared that her aunt thinks that the aforementioned LOL means “lots of love,” so she’s been sending notes, cards and messages that are wildly inappropriate, unbeknownst to her. Think of the disastrous results that can occur from not knowing that LOL means “laugh out loud.”

• “It’s your birthday. You don’t look a day over 40! LOL!”
• “So sorry to hear of your loss. LOL.”
• “Happy anniversary. I don’t know a couple that seems better made for each other. LOL!”
• “Your baby is adorable. LOL!”

See what I mean? It’s important to nail this down.

So let’s KISS (keep it simple, Sherlock) and stop with the acronyms already. Say what you mean, even if it takes a few more seconds out of your day. It’s not like we’re in such a hurry that we don’t have time to complete our sentences with good old-fashioned words. Besides, it’s the LYCD (least you can do).

Eileen Burmeister is a Winchester-based freelance writer. She CBR at burmeistereileen@gmail.com or you can FHOT at EBurmeister.

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