Acronyms exist to speed things up. The whole point of abbreviating a long title is so we don’t have to slog through reading the entire long title.
But unexplained acronyms can stop the reading flow altogether. We stumble on them, wondering, “Should I know this?” Meanwhile, we’re missing the real content of the writing.
It used to be standard practice to spell out an acronym the first time you used it in a piece of writing. For instance:
The Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things (SFPTOTOT) was a Monty Python sketch.
Mary laughed until she snorted when the SFPTOTOT came on the air.
I hardly ever see this practice anymore, and pretty much never in blogs.
Seriously, sometimes it’s like being in high school, the way acronyms are thrown around online with no explanation. It’s as if there are 500,000 e-cliques with their own secret handshakes, and the dorks who don’t get it stand around feeling like…well, dorks.
Here are some examples I’ve found in the last 24 hours.
- A blog post about a fantastic meeting of professionals, in which the blogger used only an acronym to name the conference. It was impossible to tell what the conference was about, or who it was for.
- The trend among “mommy bloggers” to refer to their husbands as “DH.” I don’t get it.
- “POTUS” and “FLOTUS,” routinely seen in journalistic writing. Does the general public know these mean President of the United States and First Lady of the United States? It would be clearer, and almost as short, to say “Prez” and “1st Lady,” or something.
I don’t think it’s realistic to say “stop using acronyms” in online writing. But as writers we should be careful to tell our readers what they mean.
Do you have an acronym pet peeve?