I sometimes believe the wheels of technological progress would screech to a halt without the use of acronyms. And facility with acronyms seems to be the shibboleth that divides the technological cognoscenti from those who are lost in space when they walk into Best Buy or Circuit City. Seniors, in particular, find dealing with some pimply-faced geek wannabe who has scored a job selling the latest computers, digital cameras and MP3 players to an unsuspecting public to be an anathema. God forbid you should have a problem with your computer and have to try to determine whether that Geek Squad Savior who rode in on a white PT Cruiser is blowing smoke up your ass when he tells you you’ve got to buy a $300.00 component just to get your email to work again. They’ll sling acronyms at you so fast that it’ll make your head spin. As the old saying goes, “If you can’t dazzle ’em with brilliance, baffle ’em with bullshit.”
I began this post thinking I had conceived a useful neologism — acronymphobia, but once again I was wrong. There is, of course, nothing new under the sun. Larry Adams had already defined it here thusly …
The fear of not understanding all the different acronyms used in business, in the media, or on the streets. Some persons may not understand a speaker or a writer when too many unfamiliar acronyms or cryptic words are used in a conversation or a report. Some persons feel a sense of panic or inadequacy.
The first link in this post (to the Wikipedia explanation of an acronym) points out that …
In the English language, the widespread use of acronyms, initialisms, and contractions is a relatively new linguistic phenomenon, having become most popular in the 20th and 21st centuries. As literacy rates rose, and as sciences and technologies advanced, bringing with them more complicated terms and concepts, the practice of abbreviating terms became increasingly convenient.
So since the 1940s, most notably manifested in the so-called Alphabet Agencies of the New Deal, we’ve relied on acronyms to help us communicate and in some instances to obscure what we are communicating, particularly from the uninitiated. Governmental agencies, different disciplines, and in particular specialized fields of study all have their own set of acronyms that facilitate getting ideas across without having to spell out the referent. In fact, organizations used to publish books that could be used to decode the mysterious combinations of letters that were required to function within those organizations.
Fortunately, the Internet which must bear its share of responsibility for the proliferation of these acronyms also provides a solution. If you’ve ever found yourself at a loss to know what XML, RSS, CSS, PHP or any similar acronym means, you can turn to The Internet Acronym Server for a translation. You might then have to plug the decoded version of the acronym into Google or Wikipedia, but with a little patience and a few clicks you can find out what the acronym means. It’s just a pity that you can’t always find it while you are standing face to face and matching wits with someone who may be 40 or more years your junior at the computer store.
But here’s a shopping tip, play dumb. If you’d like to frustrate the little bugger, insist that he translate each acronym he tries to snow you with, and then if he’s successful in doing so, ask for an explanation of just what eXtensible Markup Language, for example, means and what it is used for. You may have some fun in the exchange, but be careful. If you play this game often enough, you just might learn something and then you may find the acronyms slipping into your own vocabulary and alienating you from your peers.