IMHO abbreviations and acronyms are NSFW


Some want to eradicate abbreviations completely, while others see them as a way to create camaraderie – at the EOD (end of day), we can’t escape them.

Abbreviations are a part of our daily lives IMHO (in my humble opinion). They are used widely among workplace emails and social platforms like Slack. They make it easier to know your whereabouts with phrases such as WFH (work from home) or AFK (away from keyboard), or if you have particular meetings like a WIP (work in progress). However, when you’re onboarding a new employee and you start using company-specific abbreviations you could be leaving them asking WDYM (what do you mean)? Which leads to the question are some NSFW (not safe for work)?

Acronyms vs initialisms

I’m using the term abbreviation, as there are disagreements around the definition of an acronym. A New York Times article delves right into it, saying that an acronym is “a pronounceable word created out of the initials or major parts of a compound term,” such as NAPLAN. It says it should be distinguished from ‘initialism’, which is when something is pronounced letter by letter, much like the abbreviation of the Fair Work Ombudsman; FWO.

For me, the problems with abbreviations were typified on my first day writing for HRM. I knew we worked with the Australian HR Institute or AHRI (I then thought it was an initialism) but when it was spoken about out loud all I could hear was ‘AR-EE’, which was rather bemusing, since I thought R.E mostly referred to religious education.

The thing is, like a lot of new recruits, I was reluctant to ask for clarification because I was concerned it would come across that I was misinformed or not aware of what my new role entailed.

HR, just like other professions, can be quite abbreviation heavy. These are just some examples:

  • FWC
  • KPI
  • WHS
  • PCBU
  • HRMS
  • HCIM

If you were to use these abbreviations with the uninitiated I could imagine they may translate some of them into nonsense.

  • Find Water Closet
  • Key Player Internet
  • Where Have Shoes

It’s a common joke. (In this Robert Downey Jr advert for HTC the company’s name is variously translated as ‘Humongous Tinfoil Catamaran’, ‘Hipster Troll Carwash’ and ‘Hot Tea Catapult’). Jokes aside, the point is if you do not clearly define what your abbreviations mean then the message can get lost.

It’s not just fictional eccentric billionaires (such as Tony Stark) that have a problem with acronyms. Real life billionaire and founder of SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk, says acronyms “suck”.

In 2010, Musk sent an email to all SpaceX employees explaining how they had gone out of control at the company, and were counter-intuitive to communication.

“No one can actually remember all these acronyms and people don’t want to seem dumb in a meeting, so they just sit there in ignorance. This is particularly tough on new employees,” says Musk.

UR

Helen Moody, PhD (see, they’re everywhere) from the Professional Training Company wrote a report, A modest proposal to eliminate “acronyms”. In it she says that the core issue with acronyms are that they force people to feel uninformed.

Moody is speaking from an academic perspective, so she uses the example of psychology professionals who use the term ‘UR’ (pronounced ‘you are’).

“If you are a ‘lay person’ (anyone who is not a psychologist), you may be baffled by this term,” says Moody. “Matters do not improve much when you learn that UR stands for “Utilization Review,” but at least you hear words, not letters with confusing sounds.”

Think back to when you first began working in HR; were there any baffling abbreviations that took a long time to work out?

Moody also says that while an abbreviation could mean one thing to one section of the organisation it could mean a multitude of different things for other employees.

Her example is PC. Reading that, my mind thinks ‘political correctness’. However Moody points out that across one organisation, it means all of the following:

  • Printed circuit
  • Polymer concrete
  • Photo conductive
  • Personal computer
  • Personal clothing

And the list goes on.

“When one abbreviation can refer to so many different meanings, it is useless,” says Moody. However just because abbreviations can cause confusion, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should do away with them altogether.

SNAFU

HRM has written in the past about a study entitled Leading Through Language: Choosing Words That Influence and Inspire.

In it, researcher Bert Egnal draws a distinction between formal and informal acronyms, using the military language to explain the difference. Formal acronyms are specific and official, such as saying ‘XO’ rather than ‘executive officer’. An informal acronym would be ‘SNAFU’ (Situation Normal: All F****d Up).

“There are benefits to both [formal and informal acronyms] because informal acronyms create a sense of affiliation among members, whereas formal acronyms and formal jargon are more for expediency,” says Egnal.

It is true, acronyms can make you feel like you’re part of the club; you know the lingo so you belong. However leading up until that point things are unnecessarily confusing.

Context is also a big player in this abbreviation debate. When you text your friends or send messages on Slack it is easy enough to say something like LOL, but would you say that out loud? No, that would be annoying. But if you were talking to a young hire, would you expect them to know what KPIs are?

If you are onboarding someone into an acronym heavy company then you may want to consider a helpful guide with translations throughout, because at the end of the day acronyms are fine, as long as they don’t leave your employees exclaiming “WTF!” (“Wow, this frustrates!”).


Learn the fundamentals of the employment life cycle – from recruitment through to retirement – including current legislation and labour conventions that underpins practice with AHRI’s short course ‘Recruitment and workplace relations’.

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Ignatius
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Ignatius

Short-form language has become a way hide lack of understanding, insight or real knowledge of the topic. It is designed to sound important and knowledgeable only to disguise a lack of understanding of the issue under discussion. How often do you sit in a meeting, bombarded by abbreviations/acronyms/ letter-words. When you stop the user and ask to explain in plain language, they can’t. I agree with Elon Musk.

Rowena Van Malsen
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Rowena Van Malsen

It is a language that can leads to exclusion. It can also have disastrous personal implications when you don’t understand the lingo, such as when I sent LOL to me dear friend when her Mum died. I thought it meant Lots of Love rather than Laugh out Loud. I don’t think I am the only one who has made that mistake

Colleen Avis
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Colleen Avis

I have to agree, having worked 20 years in the Commonwealth Public Service, each and every organisation had their own acronyms that it became so confusing. Most just talked in jargon and I suspect that if called on it, they would not be able to explain what it all meant. Cross over to the private sector where I currently work and it takes a life of its own. Keep the jargon to a minimum, it confuses new employees and frustrates good communication.

More on HRM

IMHO abbreviations and acronyms are NSFW


Some want to eradicate abbreviations completely, while others see them as a way to create camaraderie – at the EOD (end of day), we can’t escape them.

Abbreviations are a part of our daily lives IMHO (in my humble opinion). They are used widely among workplace emails and social platforms like Slack. They make it easier to know your whereabouts with phrases such as WFH (work from home) or AFK (away from keyboard), or if you have particular meetings like a WIP (work in progress). However, when you’re onboarding a new employee and you start using company-specific abbreviations you could be leaving them asking WDYM (what do you mean)? Which leads to the question are some NSFW (not safe for work)?

Acronyms vs initialisms

I’m using the term abbreviation, as there are disagreements around the definition of an acronym. A New York Times article delves right into it, saying that an acronym is “a pronounceable word created out of the initials or major parts of a compound term,” such as NAPLAN. It says it should be distinguished from ‘initialism’, which is when something is pronounced letter by letter, much like the abbreviation of the Fair Work Ombudsman; FWO.

For me, the problems with abbreviations were typified on my first day writing for HRM. I knew we worked with the Australian HR Institute or AHRI (I then thought it was an initialism) but when it was spoken about out loud all I could hear was ‘AR-EE’, which was rather bemusing, since I thought R.E mostly referred to religious education.

The thing is, like a lot of new recruits, I was reluctant to ask for clarification because I was concerned it would come across that I was misinformed or not aware of what my new role entailed.

HR, just like other professions, can be quite abbreviation heavy. These are just some examples:

  • FWC
  • KPI
  • WHS
  • PCBU
  • HRMS
  • HCIM

If you were to use these abbreviations with the uninitiated I could imagine they may translate some of them into nonsense.

  • Find Water Closet
  • Key Player Internet
  • Where Have Shoes

It’s a common joke. (In this Robert Downey Jr advert for HTC the company’s name is variously translated as ‘Humongous Tinfoil Catamaran’, ‘Hipster Troll Carwash’ and ‘Hot Tea Catapult’). Jokes aside, the point is if you do not clearly define what your abbreviations mean then the message can get lost.

It’s not just fictional eccentric billionaires (such as Tony Stark) that have a problem with acronyms. Real life billionaire and founder of SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk, says acronyms “suck”.

In 2010, Musk sent an email to all SpaceX employees explaining how they had gone out of control at the company, and were counter-intuitive to communication.

“No one can actually remember all these acronyms and people don’t want to seem dumb in a meeting, so they just sit there in ignorance. This is particularly tough on new employees,” says Musk.

UR

Helen Moody, PhD (see, they’re everywhere) from the Professional Training Company wrote a report, A modest proposal to eliminate “acronyms”. In it she says that the core issue with acronyms are that they force people to feel uninformed.

Moody is speaking from an academic perspective, so she uses the example of psychology professionals who use the term ‘UR’ (pronounced ‘you are’).

“If you are a ‘lay person’ (anyone who is not a psychologist), you may be baffled by this term,” says Moody. “Matters do not improve much when you learn that UR stands for “Utilization Review,” but at least you hear words, not letters with confusing sounds.”

Think back to when you first began working in HR; were there any baffling abbreviations that took a long time to work out?

Moody also says that while an abbreviation could mean one thing to one section of the organisation it could mean a multitude of different things for other employees.

Her example is PC. Reading that, my mind thinks ‘political correctness’. However Moody points out that across one organisation, it means all of the following:

  • Printed circuit
  • Polymer concrete
  • Photo conductive
  • Personal computer
  • Personal clothing

And the list goes on.

“When one abbreviation can refer to so many different meanings, it is useless,” says Moody. However just because abbreviations can cause confusion, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should do away with them altogether.

SNAFU

HRM has written in the past about a study entitled Leading Through Language: Choosing Words That Influence and Inspire.

In it, researcher Bert Egnal draws a distinction between formal and informal acronyms, using the military language to explain the difference. Formal acronyms are specific and official, such as saying ‘XO’ rather than ‘executive officer’. An informal acronym would be ‘SNAFU’ (Situation Normal: All F****d Up).

“There are benefits to both [formal and informal acronyms] because informal acronyms create a sense of affiliation among members, whereas formal acronyms and formal jargon are more for expediency,” says Egnal.

It is true, acronyms can make you feel like you’re part of the club; you know the lingo so you belong. However leading up until that point things are unnecessarily confusing.

Context is also a big player in this abbreviation debate. When you text your friends or send messages on Slack it is easy enough to say something like LOL, but would you say that out loud? No, that would be annoying. But if you were talking to a young hire, would you expect them to know what KPIs are?

If you are onboarding someone into an acronym heavy company then you may want to consider a helpful guide with translations throughout, because at the end of the day acronyms are fine, as long as they don’t leave your employees exclaiming “WTF!” (“Wow, this frustrates!”).


Learn the fundamentals of the employment life cycle – from recruitment through to retirement – including current legislation and labour conventions that underpins practice with AHRI’s short course ‘Recruitment and workplace relations’.

3
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Ignatius
Guest
Ignatius

Short-form language has become a way hide lack of understanding, insight or real knowledge of the topic. It is designed to sound important and knowledgeable only to disguise a lack of understanding of the issue under discussion. How often do you sit in a meeting, bombarded by abbreviations/acronyms/ letter-words. When you stop the user and ask to explain in plain language, they can’t. I agree with Elon Musk.

Rowena Van Malsen
Guest
Rowena Van Malsen

It is a language that can leads to exclusion. It can also have disastrous personal implications when you don’t understand the lingo, such as when I sent LOL to me dear friend when her Mum died. I thought it meant Lots of Love rather than Laugh out Loud. I don’t think I am the only one who has made that mistake

Colleen Avis
Guest
Colleen Avis

I have to agree, having worked 20 years in the Commonwealth Public Service, each and every organisation had their own acronyms that it became so confusing. Most just talked in jargon and I suspect that if called on it, they would not be able to explain what it all meant. Cross over to the private sector where I currently work and it takes a life of its own. Keep the jargon to a minimum, it confuses new employees and frustrates good communication.

More on HRM