What’s in an Acronym?

Rex Weyler

Undefined EAJs send journalist OTE

While wading through one of those “green” business stories, in which the author hypes a scheme to make tons of money while simultaneously remaining, you know, socially responsible and Earth friendly, I came across this line: “Consider urban development projects in an FSR range of 3 to 5.”

Things went downhill from there. Soon enough I found myself spiraling down a black hole of “PPOD energy deliveries” and “DEFRA policies”. For those of you who may wish to put your ideas into writing, but who may have skipped introductory journalism, let me explain something:

General Grammatical Standards (GGS) demand that when authors use Esoteric Acronym Jargon (EAJ), they write out the meaning in full Upon First Usage (UFU). The GGS manual points out that readers not from the author’s profession may come upon an undefined EAJ for the first time and not know What the Fuck it Means (WFM).

For example, a Non-Clique Reader (NCR), such as I, may come across the phrase, “Consider urban development projects in an FSR range of 3 to 5,” and because of lack of generalized education or simple ignorance, may not know WFM.

acronym jokeThe confused NCR may, for example be an accountant familiar with “FSR” as a Financial Systems Review, a Financial Strength Rating, a Financial Services Roundtable, a Financial Services Representative, or, in Australia, the now famous Financial Services Reform. Perhaps our accountant thinks FSR represents a  Fixed Price Redetermination or a Forecast Stock Return. A US Air Force accountant might mistake the undefined AEJ as a Fund Summary Record.

Perhaps the NCR is a technician, for whom FSR indicates a Full Spectrum Recorder, Frequency Scan Radar, a Force-Sensitive Resistor, a Free Spectral Range, a Feedback Shift Register, a Frequency-Shifted Reference, a Fractional Synthetic Rate, or a type of Fluoro-silicone Rubber. Perhaps our NCR is a mathematician, for whom an FSR is a Fourier Series Representation.

A surgeon might think FSR refers to Fractionated Stereotactic Radiotherapy or Fractionated Stereotactic Radiosurgery. A pilot might conjure the Flight Safety Rules.

If the context is urban and rural planning, as indicated by the phrase “urban development projects,” perhaps the mysterious FSR refers to a Forest Service Road, a Feasibility Study Report, a Field Service Report, Flood Study Report, or Farming System Research.  If the writer is an architect, perhaps he or she is referring to a Facilities Support Requirement, a Facility Safety Review, or a Floor Space Ratio.

Without having seen the proper contextual meaning spelled out, our poor NCR remains confused. Consider this: A reader from Norway might think FSR means a Fjernskriver Ratt. A Swedish reader might believe we are talking about their Foundation for Strategic Research. In Denver, Colorado they might assume we are referring to the popular Family Support Registry. Perhaps the reader is a geopolitical specialist who thinks we are discussing the Former Soviet Republic, a German housewife who listens to Frühstyxradio, or a simple Canadian looking for a Full Service Restaurant. God forbid, our confused NCR might be a rap music fan who can only imagine this means the Futuristic Sex Robotz.

Certain acronyms may, over time, gain such notoriety that they almost become “words,” that is, they are immediately recognizable by the vast majority of people. Most readers in North America, for example, would likely know what is meant by “The CIA office in LA.” Even so, some won’t know. Information is now global, in case you have not noticed, and there are legions of people in this world, who have no clue what “LA” means. Most people around the world know what “CIA” means since their nations have been ravaged by this illustrious organization, but still, how much trouble is it to spell it out UFU?

acronym joke, 3, kidNow, an astute and compulsive grammar enforcer may point out that there was once a distinction between an “acronym,” which is spoken as a word, such as “OPEC,” and an “initialism,” which is spoken as a series of letters, such as “CIA.” I’ve used “acronym” to refer to both of these forms, since this usage has now become standard, and “initialism” is what we call an anachronism.

No one else cares if you want to text your bff: “OMG, pw, gg, cu later.” But if you are writing for an audience larger than your clique, the GGS remains clear on this standard: Always spell out the AEJ on first usage in any paper or essay, so that a reader from another discipline, or no discipline at all, knows WFM. These undefined AEJs can send even a seasoned reporter OTE (Over the Edge).

Thank you (ty).

Rex Weyler
World’s Hardest Working Unemployed Journalist (WHWUJ)