Whitehorse Daily Star

Acronymphomania – brevity is the soul of wit

My old biology teacher was always keen to abbreviate.

By freelancer on March 15, 2019

My old biology teacher was always keen to abbreviate.

Never particularly verbose or loquacious, he lived his life alongside the old adage of never writing 10 words where two (or fewer) would suffice.

“Tick, VG”, meaning that he considered a piece of work to be very good, was him at his most expressive.

“QG” (quite good) indicated that the standard had dropped a little.

“NB” confused me at first, as a new scholar of Latin, as I was yet to learn that it was not in fact to take note (nota bene) but an indication that my work was not bad.

As the school term progressed, his red-inked summaries became more expressive, sometimes extending to four or five letters.

RYWMC I was to learn was advice that I was to read your work more closely.

They gradually became more extended and more challenging to interpret until I was finally, through sheer confused exasperation, forced to raise my tremulous hand and to enquire what was meant by IHTYUWTASF.

Lowering his spectacles in my direction, he slowly sighed that “it’s high time you understood what these acronyms stood for”. Oh, how we laughed (almost).

No doubt the late Dr. Pearman (BSc, PhD, AKC (Associate of Kings College, apparently) would have been pleased that we took our appreciation, and disdain, for his abbreviation obsession toward adulthood and into our working lives.

As a support engineer, I often fielded calls from frustrated customers of our real time data monitoring software package.

So often I was sorely tempted to explain that the answer to their question lay on page one of the accompanying operators guidebook and that RTDM was a thinly- concealed suggestion that they read the damn manual.

Acronymphomania often took things unhealthily too far for the long-lamented biology teacher (when he ended up on the front page of Britain’s most widely-circulated tabloid, for alleged inappropriate conduct at an all-boys boarding school to which he has now headmaster!). I had a good LOL whilst reading that.

In a later literary career, I learned that agorophobia was less a fear of open landscapes but of wide open empty white column space.

Beefing them up with acronyms didn’t help all that much.

The inventive antidote to being assigned a particularly dull writing task was the trigger for James May (he of TV’s Top Gear broadcast fame).

Composing an acrostic message (one derived from the listing of the first letter of each paragraph in the final article) his readers were informed precisely, and in no uncertain terms, what he thought of the tiresome work he was burdened with.

Belatedly discovered, it effectively served as his resignation letter.

The joy of intentional mis-spelling, to distinguish editor’s commentary from writer’s prose, was something I acquired later in life as I was expected to produce dek-heds (sub-headings and headlines) to accompany ledes, to lead-in to nut-grafs (paragraphs in a nutshell!) for North American editors.

Not nut-filled and vegetarian in fact, but full of detailed analysis, the most meat (contain your mirth, readers!).

Driven to an emergency translator, the only way to fight fire is with more fire.

Hence, I delivered a trans-Atlantically-driven technical piece of work entitled “Why all the best vacuum-cleaners really suck!” And they printed it!

Mnemonics opened up new worlds. Richard Of York Gained Battle In Vain long before the Rainbow Nation came along.

And then we were informed that Katie Never Caught Many African Zebras as she was too busy pre-occupied with cramming the specifics of Group Three of the Periodic Table.

Poor woman. No doubt some of the Rainbow Nation folks could assist in broadening education, learning about transition(ing) metals and the inequity of separating poor metals from the noble gases.

The more obtuse and intangible the subject the more complex and convoluted the abbreviation often became.

A memory-storage module I used to support contained DPPs (digital printer pointers), TMPs (temporary memory pointers), FAS (fill and stop) storage, or optionally, ROMP (ring override memory pointer).

None of these critical little obscurities were ever visualized, even by the most highly-powered electron microscopes, with latching transistors neither seen nor heard.

All as ethereal and distant as the “event horizon” of the software engineer’s windows of the mind.

Search engine optimization makes me feel particularly pessimistic.

Citing constraints upon their precious time, “overworked” government recruitment consultants (personnel officers, as they used to be known) cut through the laborious tedium of having to read 20 or so (already-condensed) résumés of job applicants by simply keying in keywords to filter out the wheat from the chaff.

Tax dollars well spent, eh?

If you can’t get it down to 140 characters, then the twittersphere overheats to the point of spontaneous combustion.

Where once we Earth scientists looking into our own publishing history could be accused of indulging into the semiotics of geopornography and over-ex-citation, those wonderful millennials and their post-millennial underlings dribble on in the unrelenting search for subs, like and hits.

As broadcaster John Oliver, critiquing media-sourcing, and himself preaching to a converted digital base, once said, “the Internet media food chain falls apart without local newspapers.”

Remember where you read that first, and the ink that stained your fingers as you read it.

At least Tim Horton used a little panache when his own life was prematurely abbreviated, with a hopefully-succinct “TTFN” etched onto his gravestone.

Peter Ion is a Whitehorse technical author.

Special to the Star

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