Acronyms and arrogance

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During current crisis we are assailed with acronyms. To give one example, an intensive care unit becomes an ICU. Oh yes, we also have PPE.

This is part of a broader and pernicious trend. I still take Nature on a regular basis, having written a column for a number of years. At one time I could understand about one third of the content, could see what is going on in another third and could not grapple with the other third. Now, the great majority of the articles are closed book to me. Synopses are dominated by acronyms to which I do not have access and the articles themselves by torrents of data translated into graphs of a kind I can’t handle.

Given my forthcoming (when?) back operation I have had to learn that CSF = cerebrospinal fluid. If it leaks, I am in trouble.

What is the purpose of acronyms? To economise, but not to a really significant degree. Their main purpose is make the user sound knowledgeable, like an insider and a professional. They are an affectation. They also carry a kind of high-tech air like all the acronyms that plague computer-speak.  How many know what a URL stands for? We may know what it does. But it stands for ‘Uniform Source Locator’, which is as incomprehensible to me as the acronym. 

I am the founder and sole member (to date) of SAAC. This is the Society for the Abolition of Acronyms. Yes, I know it’s not a proper acronym, but that applies to many (most?) these days. There are also many organisations for which bizarre names have been concocted because they provide a good acronym.  

This is loosing battle – like most of mine – but I’m not giving up.