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Acronyms are an annoyance to columnist

August 13, 2010|By LISA PREJEAN

Each time I see LOL, I feel really old.

I can't remember if it means "laugh out loud" or "lots of love."

So, I ask my 15-year-old or my 11-year-old to set me straight.

They sigh and wonder why I have such difficulty with this.

My oldest recently reminded me that two years ago I said I thought it meant "lots of laughs."

His friends had lots of laughs about that. They probably laughed out loud and he felt lots of love at that moment.

Oh bother. It's not just the texting shortcuts that cause me to pause. I've always disliked acronyms that stand for organization names or short phrases.

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According to Webster's New World College Dictionary, an acronym is "a word formed from the first (or first few) letters of a series of words, as radar, from radio detecting and ranging."

I can understand that the military would need to abbreviate certain phrases, but why do so many organizations feel compelled to shorten their names to initials?

It can become rather confusing.

For example, if I mention the AP, my friends will have different impressions of what I mean.

My colleagues at the newspaper will think I'm referring to the Associated Press.

The parents of my students at school will assume I'm talking about Advanced Placement courses.

Our principal may think I'm referencing the Assistant Principal newsletter that we can receive from the National Honor Society through the NASSP (National Association of Secondary School Principals).

Whew. In today's acronym age, context is key.

But sometimes there is no context.

My husband and I were driving along and noticed a sign for the NSA. He glanced over and said, "What's that stand for?"

"Hmmm ... National Security Administration, maybe?" I guessed. "I'll look it up and let you know."

Actually, I was close. NSA stands National Security Agency. I found that on the Internet, but why couldn't the words be posted on the sign along the Interstate?

That's not such a big deal. Did we need to know at that moment what the letters stood for? Not really.

The use of acronyms on road signs doesn't bother me as much as the use of acronyms in newspaper articles, magazines, textbooks and novels.

Acronyms used in written prose cause the reader to stop, breaking the concentration of moment.

Think of a time when you were so completely focused on an article or a book that you forgot about your surroundings. Then you suddenly came across something that caused you to lose that focus. The next time it happens, check to see what the culprit was. Acronyms are often to blame.

And it's not enough for the writer to use parentheses to explain the acronym.

Parentheses, such as the ones I used after NASSP -- the principals' association -- send a message to the reader. (What is contained in here can be skipped.)

I've noticed that when children and teens read out loud in class, they skip the parentheses. I guess they've been taught that from little up, but the practice bothers me. Why take the time to write something if people aren't going to read it? Why include something that people are going to skip?

Children need to learn to lose themselves in a story - to be in "The Zone" while reading. If they are enjoying a story so intensely that they lose the sense of where they are and what they are doing, comprehension naturally follows.

I was discussing this with my husband, and told him I should gather some friends and start a group, "Journalists Against Acronyms."

He glanced over and I noticed a certain twinkle in his eye, the twinkle that always appears right before the teasing begins.

"So, hon, what would the acronym be for that one? J-A-A?"

Pardon me, may I borrow your newspaper for a moment? I want to roll it up and give him a whack.

On second thought, I better not. Someone will write in about a support group for husbands, and there's probably an acronym for that, too.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at lisap@herald-mail.com .

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