RE: Use of acronyms (was RE:

From: Don Osborn (
Date: Fri Oct 26 2007 - 12:24:01 CDT

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    Hi all, I wasn't going to get into this, but was sniped at for my use of TIA (thanks in advance) in closing a request for information in another thread, so I guess I'm in it already.

    There are at least a couple of issues that seem to be confused in at least some of the postings in this discussion, as well as other larger issues.

    First, use of abbreviations and acronyms is a shortcut or convenience, which becomes especially useful when one is hurried, or just to avoid typing out longer phrases. That's obvious, but it shouldn't be confused with the second issue (which I'll come to in a moment). Also, acronyms and abbreviations are a kind of lingo - some are pretty fundamental to certain groups by profession or interest or culture, and inevitably are tied to the language(s) of the name or phrase so shortened. This too is obvious. Yet even in a monolingual group or between native speakers of the same language, there are lots of opportunities for misunderstanding (more than one university faculty in the US have asked me over the years "What's ICT?").

    So the issue is really courtesy and awareness of the potential readers' knowledge of the particular shortcuts we use.

    Second, there was an effort to tie the use of acronyms and abbreviations to a monoglot or monolingual mindset. On the latter, this is a topic of particular interest to me in another field, development communication - namely how donors and international NGOs from some countries (notably the US, but not only) see things in terms of their first languages. Analogous to the proverbial "But doesn't everyone speak English?" that Ken Keniston noted among international software executives working in India 10+ years ago (things have changed there, but not as much yet in Africa). This is an important structural issue but shouldn't be used as a label to paste on anyone here who uses an acronym or abbreviation as a shortcut.

    It's also unfair to imply that use of an acronym or abbreviation implies a particular attitude with regard to the relative value or importance of English or to its present or future role in the world.

    On the latter, this could lead to a long OT (off-topic) line of discission, but let me just offer that the rise of English is driven largely by an "organic" need on the part of global society at this point in its history for some sort of global lingual franca. Personally I think it's unfortunate that that lingua franca happens to be so closely tied to a particular culture, because (among other reasons) it leads to just the sort of issue that started this thread. Native speakers of any language, or speakers who use an L2 (second language) a lot will always generate shortcuts and new expressions, and there will always be some sort of tension in that situation between their ready use of lingo that is natural to them, and the unfamiliarity of a wider group of L2 speakers of the language with those references.

    Some time ago I encountered on some French language lists the use of "A+" in closing. At first I thought it was some sort of affirmation along the lines of "+1" but more general until it dawned on me that it was short for "à plus" (something like "l8r" in English, which I'll let the kind readers not familiar with it sound out). It was just something someone in my position had to figure out.

    Ultimately this comes down to thoughtfulness on the part of writers (attention to use or not of shortcuts), tolerance on the part of readers (not sniping), and courtesy among all.

    End of sermon ;) (has that one been encoded yet?)


    > -----Original Message-----
    > From: [] On
    > Behalf Of Marion Gunn
    > Sent: Friday, October 26, 2007 9:00 AM
    > To: James Kass
    > Cc: Unicode Discussion
    > Subject: Re: Use of acronyms (was RE:
    > Thanks for your Smiley, James - am glad someone picked up humour
    > pointers, such as the longest sentence I have ever posted (to this
    > list) and the ref. to more time on computers than is healthy
    > (unavoidable in our jobs).
    > If I were to make a real point about acronyms/abbreviations, it would
    > be to celebrate the rise of alternatives, such as the punctuation-
    > based smiley and number-based shorthand such as +1 (assent) and -1
    > (dissent) and the like, because such are equally clear (unambiguous)
    > in any language and offend nobody.
    > mg
    > On 24 Oct 2007, at 05:05, scríobh James Kass:
    > > On 24 Oct 2007, at 05:05, James Kass wrote:
    > > Marion Gunn wrote,
    > >
    > >
    > >> On the plus side, Philippe, you may safely take the explosion of
    > >> English-based acronyms as a sure indicator of the growing number of
    > >> monoglot English speaker so scared that their language is becoming
    > >> international (not just theirs to use, but everybody's, especially
    > in
    > >> the case of those of them who still harbour a genuine horror of
    > >> polyglots, which we must respect as real fear to them), that they
    > >> feel a genuine need to club together behind acronyms and the like,
    > >> which is silly in the extreme, but please accept it may be better
    > for
    > >> your sanity to see that as being really more their problem than
    > >> yours, as they clearly must spend more time on computers than is
    > >> healthy for any brain.:-)
    > >>
    > >>
    > >
    > > Couple thoughts, or so.
    > >
    > > That is a very long sentence.
    > >
    > > Even though there are dedicated Unicode characters (☺,☻) for
    > > the "smiley", most people still use the ASCII approximation.
    > >
    > > Is the stereotype of the provincial English speaker who expects
    > > everyone in the whole world to learn English now being replaced
    > > by a group fear that the whole world will?
    > >
    > > Most of these "shorthand" items are technically abbreviations
    > > rather than acronyms. (Yes, it's a nit-pick, but this *is* a
    > > technical list. <smile>)
    > >
    > > Best regards,
    > >
    > > James Kass
    > >
    > --
    > Marion Gunn
    > - -
    > Marion Gunn * EGTeo (Estab.1991)
    > 27 Páirc an Fhéithlinn, Baile an
    > Bhóthair, Co. Átha Cliath, Éire.
    > * * *

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