People use acronyms everywhere these days. Texting makes acronyms more popular than ever. They make both written and spoken language faster and easier—more convenient.
They also cause significant misunderstandings when your audience does not understand them.
Did You Know …
According to Today I Found Out, creating a word made from the first letters of other words produces an acronym. You can pronounce an acronym and use it as a word. NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) are common acronyms. When the first letters do not make a pronounceable word, the result is an initialism. You pronounce the individual letters. DVD (Digital Video Disk) and IBM (International Business Machines) are common initialisms. Many texting short-cuts, such as LOL, IMHO and so many others, are actually initialisms. These days the two are increasingly lumped together under the term acronym. Some dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster, allow the use of acronym for an initialism.
What’s The Problem With Acronyms?
When people don’t know the acronym, communication breaks down. One day Tammy was telling a group about her day, including a trip to GE and other stores. As she progressed, many in the group became increasingly confused. Finally they stopped her to ask what she was talking about. Tammy used GE to mean Giant Eagle, a grocery store. Her audience (understandably) thought she meant General Electric. General Electric trademarked the initialism “GE” a long time ago. People widely recognize GE as General Electric. Tammy may have thought she was clear to her audience, cute, or quicker, but her misuse confused people and muddied her communication.
When Using Acronyms
If you want to use the short-cut version of a name, first make sure your audience recognizes it and your use conforms to legal protections (such as trademarks). When in doubt, define it for the audience.
Always remember, when you are talking your words convey information and you carry the responsibility to speak clearly so your audience understands. Use acronyms and other short-cuts sparingly.
Respect your audience by striving for clarity.