Ps and Qs Education

Know your acronyms

The stories and origins of these phrases prove that, as a species, we’ve always liked to play around with the way we communicate.   | Photo Credit: Freepik

If you are like me, then it probably took you a while to figure out what ROFL is. It was part of a text message I had received some time last year, in response to a joke I had shared. I blinked for a bit and then asked the sender what it meant. ROFL — Rolling On the Floor Laughing — she said. Thankfully, the joke had been received well.

ROFL is just one of the many texting acronyms that have become popular in recent times. I’m told I must be aware of ROFL and its many cousins if I want to be in sync with the latest trends in English and the way languages change with the times. This is, of course, in the context of written communication on mobile phones and social media. So, today, I’m sharing some of my recently acquired knowledge (and some reservations) on this subject.

Many of these expressions are what we would use in a casual context, especially under the influence of social media: ROFL, GOAT (Greatest Of All Things), LOL (Laugh Out Loud), YOLO (You Only Live Once) or the ever-popular OMG (Oh My God). Then, you have hashtag-driven acronyms like #FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), which are not necessarily casual, as they do hint at a certain anxiety, solitude or melancholy that’s probably gripping many of us in this increasingly virtual world.

Keep them handy

If many of these expressions are part of a vocabulary we need to use only in a social or casual context, do you need to be aware of them, especially if you’re looking for ways to communicate well professionally? I say, “yes” and I have two reasons. One, it’s always useful to know how the world around us communicates. We are not islands and we need to connect with each other. Two, connections and relationships at work are not defined by formal/professional settings alone. We need to socialise, build rapport through lighter moments, enable mutual trust and collaboration. And lighter moments demand a lighter vocabulary. Even if we don’t necessarily use these expressions, being aware of them will help us relate to the people around us better, especially given how most of our communication is driven through our mobile phones.

In the office setting, one popular acronym is RSVP. This French expression — “Répondez s’il vous plâit” (please respond) from the 19th century — is commonly used with most e-mail tools when meetings are set up and we are required to let the meeting organisers know if we will participate.

Interestingly, some of these popular usages that seem contemporary are not really new. Take OMG for instance. According to an article I read recently, this acronym goes back to 1917 when someone said O.M.G. in a letter to Winston Churchill. LOL and ROFL go back to the 1980s apparently. And YOLO could probably be traced all the way back to the 18th century when Goethe said “one lives only once” (though in German) in one of his plays.

The stories and origins of these phrases prove that, as a species, we’ve always liked to play around with the way we communicate. If we do decide to use such expressions, we also need to know how to use them appropriately. Reserving many for strictly social occasions, ensuring they don’t pop up in formal emails or messages are desirable. Overusing emoticons or acronyms could probably end up irritating the recipients of our messages. For instance, I have a tendency to overuse the smiley. And I was politely told by my team to cut down on using them.

When we discuss acronyms (which all of you know are formed by bringing together the first letters of words), it may not be a bad idea to also know a bit about abbreviations and initialisation. An abbreviation, unlike an acronym, only shortens a word. So for instance, Dec or Feb for December and February, respectively. An initialisation, on the other hand, is like an acronym, but we pronounce every letter that stands for a word. For example, V.I.P. is an acronym for ‘Very Important Person’. However, we don’t pronounce it as “vip” or “whip”, but as individual letters: V. I. P.

Until the next column, TC. And TTYL!

The author is a writer and literary journalist. She also heads Corporate Communications at UST. Views expressed are personal. Twitter: @anupamaraju


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Printable version | Sep 21, 2021 7:15:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/know-your-acronyms/article35506060.ece

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