Acronyms and Abbreviations

Why is abbreviation such a long word?

Acronyms are almost like cliches: they supposedly make writing quicker and easier, but they make both the editor and the reader have to work harder to figure out what you really mean.

In fiction, I don’t usually see acronyms and abbreviations, but in the book I just finished reading, there were a few military acronyms. They didn’t slow me down that much because they were explained in the text. You’ll most likely encounter acronyms in nonfiction, and when there are a lot of them, the author might include a “helpful” acronym list in either the front or back matter of a book. Honestly, I’d rather see acronyms defined in the text than having to flip back and forth to a list, but… to each his own, I suppose.

I was also thinking of acronyms like LOL and WTF and TTYL and YOLO. It’s considered bad form to use those words in writing unless you’re working on a YA (*gasp* an acronym!) novel or a scientific paper explaining the use of those terms in adolescent speech. Also, chances are, when you type LOL, you’re not really laughing out loud. You might have smiled a little or remained impassive. It seems to me that LOL is used more often when you say something that might be construed as mildly offensive, so you mitigate with a nice LOL.

It just bugs me when I’m reading a fascinating nonfiction book and all of a sudden I bump into an acronym that hasn’t been explained or defined anywhere, so I’m forced to stop reading and scan the text again to try and find out what the acronym means, or when I have to put the book down and Google it. Basically… spell it out unless it’s used more than a few times. And if you can avoid it, don’t use acronyms at all.

5 thoughts on “Acronyms and Abbreviations

  1. I’m with you . . . I prefer acronyms when the same term is used over and over in a nonfiction (or fiction) piece, but I want them to define the term the first time.

    Example: PTSD = Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I don’t want that spelled out 27 times in the text, but I want it defined the first time it’s used.

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  2. I agree. I also agree with what you were saying about the term ‘LOL’ – people say it sometimes for no reason whatsoever. I think the new definition for it should be ‘Something You Say When You Are Any Other Mood But A Negative One’ (but then they would have to find an acronym for that… SYSWHAAOMBANO? I guess not :P.

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  3. You make a good point here. As a science major, I see way too many acronyms that are used as names, without being explained. There is a rhyme or reason for the majority of them, like Ras, a protein family, which comes from “RAt Sarcoma”. Given the relation to cancer, that makes sense, but ambiguity is a big problem in textbooks and even more so in class lectures.
    As for fiction, I fell the same with techno-thrillers as I do science acronyms. Give me a little to work with.

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