3 Rs of Abbreviation – Resist, Re-evaluate, Revert
02 April 2022
Abbreviate if you must, not because you can.
We see a liberal use of abbreviations in the form of truncated words, acronyms and initialisms in formal, written communication today.
Instead of simplifying complicated words and making it easier for the reader – the basic idea behind abbreviations – using too many of them tends to create confusion instead.
How often have you had to copy-paste an abbreviated word on your Google search bar to check its meaning?
Do you remember the awkward moment when you were unsure about an acronym but hesitated to ask the meaning for fear of appearing ignorant?
The purpose of abbreviating must always be ease of reading and not ease of writing (for someone who wants to avoid typing the same words again and again).
This is a rule of thumb we often forget.
Too many, too short
We are now expressing even our most profound thoughts in less than 140 characters. Instructions and emotions in e-mails appear in stripped-down language. We don’t think twice before “disemvowelling” — the practice of dropping vowels from a word while typing out a message.
This habit of reducing and squeezing is now reflecting even in formal communication.
There was a time when the place where scientists did their experiments was a 10-letter word that rolled off the tongue like a transverse wave. Now, its pithy three-letter version, “lab”, does the job. When was the last time you said “carbohydrate”? “Carb” has taken its place in both spoken and written language. From the well-entrenched “zoo”, “phone”, and “plane”, to new entries “gym” and “abs”, the list of acceptable truncated words is growing fast.