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Contrived To Confuse

Are you confused by acronyms? I certainly am, and as an employee of a large corporate organisation this can be a bit of a problem as the cliché is that this is one of the acronym’s finest breeding grounds, and like many clichés it is unfortunately true.

What scares me about acronyms is the ease which we create them and the ease they can become so prevalent throughout an organisation. This is not necessarily a problem initially; they become a new language (or perhaps dialect) and providing everyone speaks the same dialect there is no problem understanding each other.

The issue comes when you start trying to talk your new dialect with those who have not been exposed to it before and the fun and games that result afterwards.

I feel it more acutely these days as my work means I spend a lot of time dealing with organisations other than my employer, whether that be other companies, regulatory authorities or Non-Governmental Organisations (or NGOs – exactly my point, an acronym you see quite a lot but few people outside my professional sphere understand what it means and the wide range of organisations covered by those three letters). It is terribly easy to use acronyms you use every day with your team back home in a new discussion and see the blank looks of incomprehension on the person you are talking to. Worse, perhaps, is when the person on the receiving end of your stream of gobbledygook is good at hiding the fact they have no idea what you mean and will not ask you to explain out of embarrassment. Of course if someone has not bothered to explain their terms first any lack of comprehension on the part of the audience is pretty much their fault, but it never feels like that, we all feel that we know everything.

One thing I am not entirely sure of, and which gives me a little hope, is whether things are getting better or worse. I am not talking about texting language or Twitter technique, as that to me is a different medium for communication in its very principles and therefore has its own language. I am thinking about whether when we actually talk to each other, whether or not in a business context, we have gotten worse in our unqualified use of acronyms and that consequentially we are set on a course of increased mutual bamboozlement, or whether only the acronyms themselves change. I feel that actually the latter may be the case, considering people have been pointing out the issues for some decades at least.

There are many more important things to worry about of course, and this little whimsical ramble is principally to give some respite on a busy Tuesday from having to decipher yet another impenetrable business report. But then again, anything that stops us from understanding each other these days has to be watched, so I am going to try harder to not use acronyms without reason, or at least provide a glossary.

Finally, it is only fair that I reveal my favourite acronym; there was quite a lot to choose from, especially for a geek like myself and the entire history of SF and fantasy to trawl through for those acronyms so painfully manufactured to make a cool name for an organisation or character, stand up James Bond’s nemesis SPECTRE, or in more long winded fashion the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. However, for me personally it is pipped at post by a character from the 1979 Disney film ‘The Black Hole’ heroic robot VINCENT, which is somehow contrived from Vital Information Necessary CENTralized, which is truly terrible. But he was voiced by the late Roddy McDowall, so that makes up for most sins in my book. I’m interested in other people’s favourites, from any sphere…


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