Daily Archives: October 14, 2010

TLAs, Emoticons, and other Communicata...

textingTexting has gone viral and with it has come a veritable flood of TLAs and FLAs (three-letter acronyms and four letter acronyms), shortcuts, and emoticons.  When it comes to acronyms, it’s no big surprise to us in the IT (information technology) industry – we’ve been inundated with acronyms since IT was first coined.  (I remember smiling years ago when a “senior” consultant I worked with in Telecommunications asked why we’d capitalize ‘it’.)

Most niche industries use acronyms as a communication short-cut.  But acronyms also create confusion and communication obstruction when used outside of their knowledge circle, with few exceptions.  One exception I can think of is the universal acronym is “Rx” (short form for Radix, the derivative of Prescription) — seldom is this shortcut questioned or confused.

The same cannot be said for other acronyms. Take AMA for an example… this is used variously to mean the American Medical Association, the American Marketing Association, the American Music Awards, the American Management Association, the Alberta Motor Association, and others.  So when you see the acronym AMA – what does it stand for?

acronymsI got caught in an acronym fiasco yesterday – unwittingly!  I got a call and spent an hour on the phone with a prospective client who was looking for someone with exactly my “ISO” standards experience.  (I’ve been on the US delegation to ISO software engineering standards since 1994, both as a project editor writing international standards and as a national subject matter expert.)  The client told me that her firm had recently acquired a contract to provide insurance software to ISO and she knew that they would have to comply with all necessary ISO standards.

The hour-long discussion turned out to be for naught – the ISO she was looking for was the Insurance Services Organization, not the International Standards Organization (based in Geneva Switzerland) to which my experience pertained.  In retrospect, the conversation reminded me of a scene out of the old situation-comedy “Three’s Company” (which was a weekly satire filled with double entendres!)  Here I was talking about ISO standards as they might pertain to insurance (and knowing that insurance is both state regulated and nationally regulated… AND it did seem strange that an US-based insurance software company would be retained by such an international entity.  Nonetheless, I played along…) — and the firm was looking for someone in the Insurance Standards Organization based firmly in the US.

In software development, acronyms are commonly used to name software systems – and we even joke about having acronym naming meetings whereby a team creates a seemingly sensible system name to fit into a clever acronym like “ACES” (Access Claims Eligibility System).  Ultimately, the clever long form meaning is lost once the acronym is in place, and people then only remember the acronym.

Certainly, acronyms can shorten redundant and repetitive phraseology – but they do not make sense if they introduce communication barriers.  Texting shortcuts cause the same situation – if someone has to spend extra time figuring out what you are saying, you are NOT communicating.  LOL (laugh out loud), Gr8 (great), 2morro (tomorrow), L8R (later) and other shortcuts sometimes save only a couple of keystrokes so one wonders why they would be used.  In some cases, I’ve seen writings where scholars fear the dumbing down of America through texting.  They wonder if texters will lose their ability to spell (if they knew how to do so before they started texting…)

Emoticons serve to create more casual bonding between texters.  <>():- ; and other punctuation marks serve to create emotion signals and sometimes even show up in once formal written business correspondence and emails.  With emoticons there is not as much danger in being misunderstood – rather it is the introduction of “casual” language into traditionally formal settings.

If your industry needs to create an acronym dictionary to decode the meanings of the many shortcuts in use– then things may have gone too far.  Acronyms, abbreviations and other shortcuts should enable communication — not trip it up.

To your communication success!

TTFN (ta ta for now), TTYL (talk to you later), :-).