Acronyms and context

There’s something about shortening of words that makes my heart beat faster. The subgroups of abbreviation, (grammatical) contractions and acronyms, aren’t less of a trigger for my linguistically inclined mind to reel. Isn’t our language more beautiful with morpheme likes of Ms, Blvd, Interpol and HTML?

Definitions first. Abbreviation is a shortening of a word by any kind of means. Contraction is omitting some of the letters or syllables and drawing together other parts of a word (Ms, Dr, let’s, o’clock). Acronym is a shortening of a phrase formed by the initial components in a phrase or a word (HTML, AD, NATO).

If used correctly, or rather consequently and in a mindful manner, abbreviations are a powerful tool in both written and spoken communication. All too often, I come across problematic usage of abbreviations in texts. Usually, it’s acronyms that get misused.

The most obvious, and unfortunately most common, problem I see is using acronyms without providing any context for your readers. It results in segregation – though your text is publicly available, only the “elect” understand your reference to an acronym. It would not be that big of a problem, of course, if an acronym had only one meaning and it could easily be found an online acronym finder.

So, please, provide some context the next time you decide to use an acronym. Don’t assume your readers are familiar with your subject as much as you are. I assure you, the results will definitely be greater than the effort you put into making your message clear (IMHO).

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