FYI: Acronyms are sort of OK

I would like to take a moment to briefly discuss the preoccupation with acronyms that we have in this country (aka the USA).

The other day I was watching a program in which a British lad said something about the ?telly.?

The use of the word telly got me thinking: Why do we initialize TV instead of simply shortening the word to telly?

Honestly, ?telly? makes more sense to me. Talking picture shows used to be called talkies, and moving picture shows are called movies, so it seems logical to call our television the ?telly.?

But we don?t. In fact, our society goes even further to abbreviate a majority of the common networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, TNT, TBS and MTV?which, I might add, is an acronym within an acronym conveniently on display at the Sternberg Museum in Hays.

Acronyms are so prevalent it seems difficult to complete even a simple message without using one.

Take a possible picnic invitation: FYI, you need to RSVP ASAP to the picnic (time TBD), and please BYOM unless you just want a BLT.

Or how about some instructions for the baby?sitter: The VCR is broken, but feel free to use the DVD player hooked up to the TV, or watch something on PPV or the DVR.

Finally, this is a message simply asking someone to identify themselves: Bring a photo ID with your PIN and DOB.

I should probably back up here to point out that acronyms are not unique to this country, or for that matter, modernity.

The Romans were using acronyms long before the Christians arrived: The official name of the Roman Empire (Senatus Populusque Romanus) was shortened to SPQR.

Of course, when considering Ancient Rome?s role model qualifications we should also take into account that the citizens used letters to count as well.

American corporations started abbreviating names in the mid-19th century, when writing space was limited. The American Telephone and Telegraph Company became AT&T, while the National Biscuit Company became Nabisco.

(Little-known untrue fact that I just made up: Nabisco had a sister company that failed: the National Gravy Company, or Nagraco.)

After the military caught wind of this idea in the mid-20th century?starting with AWOL and somehow getting to PAST-A! (or Pedagogically Adaptive Scenarios for Training ? Automated!)?it?s no wonder our culture has become romantic with ditties of diminutive diction (or DDD).

OK (or ?Okay?), I can deal with the shorter acronyms. It?s the really long ones that don?t make sense to me.

It is my understanding that acronyms exist to make like easier, if by ?easier? you mean ?requiring one to associate specific meanings with indiscriminate strands of letters and be able to recall them immediately.? But when an acronym becomes more cumbersome than the actual phrase, what good does it do?

I call these ?hackronyms? because you have to hack your way through them.

Case in point, SPEBSQSA, the Society for the Preservation and Encour?agement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, isn?t exactly harmonious. And the Navy?s ADCOMSUBORDCOMPHIBSPAC, or Administrative Command, Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet Subordinate Command, could probably sink a vessel single-handedly.

But what?s the longest? I have verified on several sites on the World Wide Web (or WWW) that the world?s longest acronym is the 56-letter NIIOMTPLABO?PARMBETZHELBETRABSBOMONIMONKONOTDTEKHSTROMONT.

It?s Russian for ?The laboratory for shuttering, reinforcement, concrete and ferrocon?crete operation for composite-monolithic and monolithic constructions of the Department of the Technology of Building-assembly operations of the Scientific Research Institute of the Organization for building computerization and technical aid of the Academy of Building and Architecture of the USSR.?

This alone probably accounts for Russians losing both the Cold War and the space race.

At this point, I could also bring up acronyms in which redundancy is almost always included, such as ?ATM machine? or ?VIN number.?

But maybe I?m getting too much into this. People like me should probably go to some sort of group therapy session. We could even call it Acronyms Anonymous.

Or AA for short.

This column first appeared in the Free Press in July 2011.

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