Alphabet Soup: Consume With Caution

We live in the USA–the United States of Acronymia.

What’s your initial reaction to that twist on our country’s name? LOL?

See, only two sentences into this post, and I’ve dropped two acronyms on you. Lost yet? (LOL is “laugh out loud,” by the way.)

One of the biggest enemies of clarity in communication is this overuse of acronyms. This comes to mind a day after Chicago’s WBBM 780 radio broadcast of the Chicago Marathon.

In my half-hour of listening, Josh Liss must have used the term “PR” at least 10 times in connection with various runners’ efforts. Not once did I hear him offer the words attached to each letter.

Serious runners certainly would know what he meant, but what proportion of the radio station’s listeners are casual fans (like me) and therefore may have been hazy on what “PR” stands for?

As I listened to the broadcast, I was scrubbing the bathtub and performing other cleaning tasks. In that moment, to me, PR meant “persisent rinsing.” I am also a publicist, so in that realm “PR” represents “public relations.”

Actually, what Liss meant was “personal record”: an individual’s best-ever marathon time. I suspected that was the case, then looked it up just now online to be sure.

If a true pro like Liss can fall prey to this tendency–I’ve heard him for years, and he’s usually an excellent communicator–then we all need to be vigilant about steering clear of exclusively using abbreviated jargon.

I’m not advocating an outright ban on alphabet soup, but every once in a while we ought to intersperse acronyms with their complete phrasing, particularly when we are speaking to an audience that may not be so familiar with the jargon.

Text messaging has spawned numerous acronyms, of course, such as the LOL noted above. You can see many more here.

And while we’re on the subject of the Chicago Marathon, if you know someone who ran–or even if you don’t–you can see how they fared. I see another Matthew Baron, a 37-year-old from Los Angeles, ran the 26.2 miles in about 5 hours.

Kudos, namesake! Even if that time was not your PR, I hope that you appreciate this little bit of PR.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *