Brevity is a positive virtue. Shakespeare called it “the soul of wit.” (Even though he put it in the mouth of that blowhard Polonius.) But in general, we all agree it is a good thing. And abbreviations often help us to keep things short. They are nothing new. Business and industry have used them forever. Think A&P, BBD&O, UPS – to simplify, shorten and brand the long names of companies so that we better remember them. In Banking and Finance we have the FDIC and NASDAC and of course, ATMs (which in France is DAC for distributeur automatique de billet). As Soon As Possible (which is too long for the workplace mandate to hurry up) became ASAP. In show biz abbreviation is more than just efficient. It says a star is so famous he or she can be known by just one name, like Cher or Sting, or, even greater, by initials (think JLO).
Abbreviation of medical topics encourages us to feel comfy with dreaded diseases and their pharmacological cures. I get it. Who wouldn’t rather have DVT than deep vein thrombosis, and have it cured by some short and catchy acronym, called Clotout? An actress tells the camera that MBC or IBS or OCD isn’t going to beat her, and doesn’t it almost seem it will be easier than say, beating Metastatic Brain Cancer or Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? It takes the edge off the diagnosis and makes us feel like it’s a club we belong to, rather than a disease we have. And if, god forbid, we have to go to Memorial Sloan Kettering, wouldn’t it be better to bounce in and see the Docs at MSK? ( I’m getting PTSD from this.)
But sometimes abbreviations can do more than obfuscate. They can mystify. For example, have you ever, sometime in your life, sat in on a meeting of academics or social workers in a world filled with initials (of programs, agencies, waivers, initiatives and organizations)? EEOC and OSHA, FHA, DMs, RTs, FLXMs, BURPs. it is like trying to understand the click talk of a foreign tribe or the chirping of cicadas.
And often, abbreviations may remain, while meanings are all but forgotten. Who remembers that BBD&O refers to four people named Batten, Barton, Durston and Osborne? And how many people know that the A&P refers to the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company? Or that ATM stands for Automatic Teller Machine, or whether I want to drive to one in an RV or an SUV? The letters may remain, but the meanings may have shifted, or reversed, or changed, or become defunct.
And just when I was getting used to all the above, I began sinking into the world of text messages. OMG. RU kidding?
With texting something deeper than just brevity is going on. The art of expression and conversation is under siege. Words we use to indicate thoughts and feelings are now shrunken and starved into single letters. Punctuation is on the uptick. Periods, I am told, in a text or Instagram, indicate finality, and exclamation points are thunderous. Which is not, in itself, a bad thing. BUT: how do you indicate complex thoughts? Or emotion? In my world, if you can’t express them, try them out, speak them in full, write them down, they will drift off or shrivel and die.
More importantly, perhaps, this form of abbreviation sucks the rhythm and emotion out of what were once sentences and paragraphs filled with ideas and feelings. There is something deeply unsatisfying in saying LOL to tell someone who made you laugh that you were indeed amused, or ILY to express how you feel about a loved one. There is no time to contemplate the profundity of “You Only Live Once” when it is expressed as YOLO.
Anyway, I hope you know how I feel even if I say it like this, dear RDRs and BFFs: as we approach the end of the year, I sncrly wish you HNY. GD HLTH. TTYL.