Wednesday, 3 August 2011


I see acronyms everywhere. Give me three or four random letters and my mind will attempt to squash and cajole them into some form of sense.

Perhaps this is a result of having spent years working in the computer industry; not only do we have the well-known acronyms (RAM, ROM, PC, HTML, PNG, KB, MB, MOS) but also a massive array of lesser-known ones (CISC, RISC, HAL, 3NF, ZIF and hundreds more). The language of computers is filled with thousands of words that seem to be almost designed to confuse the outsider.

My all-time favourite was the unpronounceable PCMCIA from the nineties; officially this stood for 'Personal Computer Memory Card International Association' but it was known to us all as 'People Can't Memorise Computer Industry Acronyms'.

I went for a drive today, and on the way I mindlessly scanned the car numberplates in front of me. I saw a BOC (British Oxygen Company), an ARM (Advanced Risc Machine) and an LLD (Late-Life Depression or Low Level Document).

I cannot help it; if something does not form a word then my mind tries to convert it into one. Which in some ways is natural human behaviour - our minds are superb at pattern recognition. Which leads to another problem: acronyms can be very industry-specific and the same letters can mean very different things in different contexts - see a doctor about an STD and he will react very differently to a mathematician (STatistial Deviation) or a telecoms engineer (Subscriber Trunk Dialling). How long will it be before something bad happens because of acronym confusion?

It already happens in computing - kilobyte (KB) and kilobit (Kb) are pronounced the same and are used to represent memory sizes, but have very different values. Fortunately most people learn to use the long-form rather than the acronym when pronouncing them.

I wonder if I am alone in this rather strange habit - does anyone else try to de-acronymise(*) random letters?

(*) Or for that matter, to verbise nouns?


Alan R said...

You bring back memories that i thought had been lost.

Going back i guess 15 yrs. I was sat in a pub talking to a friend who was quite high up in the electrical side of the RN (Royal Navy). He also has a brilliant computer brain. He now works for Honeywell in the US. (United States). I being a lowly ME (Mech Engineer) was saying to him how i hated the proliferation of acronym’s that was rapidly growing within the industry and i wished that people would just say the word instead of making something up that said "i understand what it is why don’t you”.

Well cutting the story short he basically told me that i needed to get used to it because the world was changing and the acronym would be part of our lives.
He rhymed off a whole stack of them all in order like a Jonathan Cooper Clark trilogy. I have never forgot it and of course as always he was indeed correct.

Do i do it? Hmm Not if i can help it. I hate them.

123george said...
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