An Analysis of Acronyms

Let’s talk about acronyms. We all use them. But what makes them powerful mainstays of language? Here’s my take:

  1. Well, they’re a shortcut. Duh. Less writing. Less typing. Efficiency. Who really wants to type out How I Met Your Mother when you can just say HIMYM? It’s practically in our DNA to take a shortcut. As every grade school kids knows, no one bothers with the United States of America. USA! USA! USA!
  2. They make texting a lot easier given that you’re relying on opposable thumbs for communication. LOL and BRB are way easier to pound out than the whole phrase written out. Amiright?
  3. Because every industry has a million agencies, national organizations, chapters, and set of guidelines, and acronyms streamline the naming of things. I’m a librarian. I get it. We love our inside lingo. We especially love our organizational acronyms.
  4. They give us a sense of being in the know. LOL has become the joke of the acronym world because 1) no, you’re not really laughing out loud when you use it, and 2) your grandma knows what it means. If you don’t watch Game of Thrones, then you have no idea what GoT means. If you don’t spend a bunch of time online, then FWIW and FTW and NSFW have no meaning. If you’re not a librarian, you don’t understand what AASL is. How many times have you seen or heard an acronym and been too afraid to ask what it actually means because everyone else already seems to know it? Yes, I’m talking to you, person who secretly googles acronyms. It also happens that when someone uses an acronym and then proceeds to explain it, you get annoyed if you already know it. Acronyms are insider codes, and we all want to be on the inside.

It’s interesting to me how much grammar, spelling, and punctuation have been used to judge someone. People who care a lot about using proper grammar are dubbed nerds, snobs, elitist. People who are more colloquial and perhaps less obsessive are considered ignorant, uneducated, careless even. Acronyms, grammar, and spelling all have the potential to exclude. Throughout history, groups of people have been prevented from learning how to read and write. This is precisely because people who have knowledge can use it to oppress those who don’t have it. There is power in knowing.

This is a lot to extract from an analysis of acronyms, but IMO this is part of the fascination with and complication of grammar and language. What are your thoughts?