Acrimonious Acronyms

Joe.pic[This is a guest blog post from Joe Sky-Tucker. Joe has been a regular at my coaching sessions for many moons and I never cease to be amazed by his candor, insight and humor. So vexed is he by the uptick in acronym usage that he reached out to see if he could vent on Claxon’s blog. Read on and you’ll see what, without a moment’s hesitation, I said, “Vent on, Joe, vent on!” Dude knows a thing or two about compelling writing.]

Okay people, we have spawned scourge on our lives and language.  It is subtly making us all more stupider like we are from Jupiter…and we are not… we are from Mars (‘cause we get more candy bars, duh).  This scourge is making us create “in groups” and “out groups” and separating us from our missions, visions and values.  All of this with the ease of a key stroke on your computer or a swipe of your smart phone.  Stop it.  Seriously stop it.  Stop using so many (enter favorite swear word here) acronyms.

We can blame texting and lament the damage it has done to our language.  We could stand on principle and say, “in my day” and opine for the days of yore when we spoke and wrote with a lyrical simplicity and beauty that would make Shakespeare himself weep crocodile tears.  But all of those reasons are tired and lame.  This problem has been around for a very long time.  With the advent of the telegraph, the short hand and acronyms were just as pervasive.

We are to blame, everyone, all of us. In the nonprofit industrial complex, it is particularly worrisome as it is affecting our communications in ways we may not fully understand.  We name our programs with a borderline compulsive inclusion complex; worried that we may face perjury charges if we omit something. This inclusion complex comes from a place of good intent, in theory.  In practice, we get program names like the Homeless Teen Therapeutic Education and Arts Group program (HTTEAG).  Then everyone is saying, “The HTTEAG program offers homeless youth a safe place to express themselves creatively…” or “The HTTEAG program provides (that provide’s for you Erica) arts education to empower homeless youth to…”

Now everyone has to learn what HTTEAG means.  The organization that created it knows what it means.  Now they must “educate” us to the proper uses of this gaggle of letters, probably done in a slightly condescending manner, like slipped into a presentation, “Our HTTEAG program is a standout program, oh, right the Homeless Teen Therapeutic Education and Arts Group for the uninitiated” (as though our lives were lost until we are baptized in their acronym hell).  Or it is dropped into a grant application or LOI (Letter of Interest, obviously)(Letter of Intent, also but you knew that too) and now the person reading it has to go back and forth reminding themselves what all of the different acronyms mean.

And it doesn’t just end with one or two, they just keep coming and coming and coming. First we create an acronym for our organization, then the program, then for specific parts of the program.  It dulls the impact of our words, because we are not actually using words.  It is not compelling, it is adequate.  No one ever says, “aim for adequate, being nondescript is awesome”.

Instead, why don’t we name the program “Painting Futures”?  Or something else that would speak to the benefit of the program and remain acronym-free? Why not indeed, nonprofit community? For shame.

This constant use of jargon (a topic for another time) and acronyms creates distance in our language.  Instead of connecting people to the mission of our organizations, we are forcing them to learn our language.  Forcing them to collude with us as we create a euphemistic shorthand for the great work we do.  It’s not LITM (Low Income Target Market), it’s hard working families.  It’s not YOLO (You Only Live Once), it’s called being 22.

I know that acronyms are an inescapable construct of our times and language.  But we do not need to make it worse.  We want people to understand what we do and how we are helping the world.  Through careful and creative (yes grants can be creative, sort of) use of our words we can convey why we do this work and why it is important.  Isn’t that what we all want?

In addition to acronyms, here are some other things I’d suggest if you want to avoid sounding  dumb:

  • “I could care less” when you mean “I couldn’t care less”.
  • Saying “Irregardless” (not a word).
  • Writing “alot” (also not a word).
  • Stop saying, “literally”, seriously let’s ban this word.

Thanks for letting me vent!

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?