In our modern world where information needs to be quick, short and to the point, acronyms are becoming ever more popular. The best examples are found in text messages, Facebook status updates or Twitter tweets. So whether you’re in the U.K. (United Kingdom), the U.S.A. (United States of America), the U.A.E. (United Arab Emirates) or anywhere in the EU (European Union), acronyms are becoming more and more essential when writing and speaking in English.
So now, I’m going to make you feel like a VIP (Very Important Person) as I go through some. However, I hope that I don’t go OTT (Over The Top, or “to do something to an excessive degree”) with the amount of abbreviations I use in this article. A word of advice, if you live in a hot country and it starts to get a bit difficult, turn up the AC (Air conditioning)!
Teenagers are among the social groups that use acronyms the most, chatting online with their BFF (Best Friends Forever) about how gr8 (Great) their favourite DJ (Disc Jockey) is and ending each message with C U L8r 2nte (See You Later Tonight) and XOXOXOX (hugs and kisses). Careful!.... P911 (Parent Alert)!
However, it’s not just teenagers who are using what seems to be a secret language. Even in formal writing, a whole host of acronyms are used in letters or in CVs (Curriculum Vitae). This can range from writing your name with Mr (Mister), Mrs (a contraction of the very old fashioned title “Mistress”) or Dr (Doctor) in front of your surname, or giving your D.O.B. (Date Of Birth).
Acronyms are also used in articles and documents e.g. (Exempli Gratia: for example): N/A (Not Applicable), NB (Nota Bene: take note), p.t.o (Please Turn Over), c/o (Care Of), fao (For the Attention Of), FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) and i.e. (Id Est: in other words). The business industry also uses a lot of acronyms in both writing and speaking, for example HR (Human Resources), CEO (Chief Executive Officer), VP (Vice President) and HQ (HeadQuarters) to name but a few.
Acronyms are used from a.m. (Ante Meridiem: between midnight and midday) until p.m. (Post Meridiem: after midday) and it has become quite rare to find a text message without a LOL (Laugh Out Loud) or an OMG (Oh My God). BTW (By The Way), some are even replacing the full form in spoken English, such as FYI (For Your Information) and ASAP (As Soon As Possible). Likewise, people might say, “Are you going to the DIY (Do It Yourself) store?”, “So what is his ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival)?”, “She’s quite ill today, so she needs a lot of TLC (Tender Loving Care)” and the quite insulting “That man stinks of BO (Body Odour)!”
Some acronyms that are used by certain groups are also used in a different context. For example, the military uses AWOL (Absent WithOut Leave) and MIA (Missing In Action). At the same time, people outside of the military, a.k.a. civilians, use AWOL to say that someone is doing their job very badly or simply that they have gone crazy, while MIA is used to state that someone is not at work or away from what they should be doing.
I need a break already! What time is it? Well it’s 12.15 GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) here so I need some food and a drink. It’s not sunny enough for a BBQ (Barbecue) so I’ll go and make myself a BLT (Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato) sandwich and wash it down with a cool refreshing OJ (Orange Juice).
That’s better! Some objects are only known by their acronyms, such as ATMs (Automated Teller Machines), PIN (Personal Identification Number), CDs (Compact disks), DVDs (Digital Versatile Disks), PCs (Personal Computer), etc. (et cetera: and other things).
Certain brand names and companies are also only known by their acronyms, such as BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke), IKEA (Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd), DHL (Daisey Hillblom Lynn), M&M's (Mars & Murrie's), KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken), and MTV (Music Television). There are also some brand names that I bet you didn't even know were acronyms like the SMART (Swatch Mercedes Art) car, Yahoo! (Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle) or the TASER (Thomas A Swift's Electric Rifle) gun.
An acronym can also be used in the most difficult situation, death. RIP (Rest In Peace) can be added before someone’s name to tell of their recent passing away. However, nowadays, this is mainly used by people on social medias to show their appreciation of a singer, actor, sports person, etc. who has recently died, such as: RIP David Bowie.
Acronyms could even save your life! If you’re lost somewhere like in the desert or on a deserted island, write SOS on the ground as big as you can so that passing aircraft will see your cry for help. Well, hopefully! However, if you’ve suffered any bad injuries, you’d be taken to A and E (Accident and Emergency) or the ER (Emergency Room). OK, I know SOS isn’t technically an acronymn but a Morse code distress signal using the sound sequence (· · · – – – · · ·). It is now more popularly known as “Save Our Ship” or “Save Our Souls,” even though “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday” (from the French m’aider, which means “help me”) and “Pan, Pan, Pan” (Possible Assistant Needed) is used when calling for help on radios or other communication devices.
Sad as I am, I also have a favourite acronym which is IOU (I Owe You), simply because even though it is an acronym, the pronunciation is still the same I-O-U, I owe you. As you can tell, I don’t have a high IQ (Intelligence Quotient, a test to assess human intelligence).
In conclusion, acronyms can enhance a formal written document or make someone sound more natural when chatting with friends. However, be cautious when using them. Using acronyms that are more commonly used by teenagers will not help your business. Likewise, using acronyms more common in the business industry won’t make you sound cool when chatting with your BFF.
OMG! I think I've finished. I hope that wasn't TMI (Too Much information) or that you're AAK (Asleep At Keyboard). So B4 (before) you get KO'd (Knock[ed] Out) by the amount of acronyms I have used, I’ll say thanks & B4N (Bye For Now).
Hero Image by Felipe Gavronski (CC BY 2.0)