by Bill Flury

Blinded by Lack of an AEM

At a recent meeting that included people from many different organizations the speaker opened by having everyone introduce themselves to the group. He suggested that it would be best if people would not use acronyms in their introductions. As he explained, “I have left my AEM at home”. He went on to say, “AEM stands for ‘Acronym Expansion Module’ and without that he would be unable to translate the acronyms you might use in your introductions”.

What happened next was a real eye-opener. Most people had trouble remembering their organization or project non-acronym name. Three were embarrassed by not knowing what their organization’s acronym stood for.

The speaker’s point was well made. Extensive use of acronyms can impede understanding. If the people who use the acronyms regularly have difficulty translating them, others certainly would.

Acronym Problems

Writing with lots of acronyms creates an alphabet soup. It guarantees that readers will remember nothing substantive and just how hard that was to read. This is most prevalent in military circles. This may derive from the fact that in the relatively recent past minimizing the number of characters in a communication was, in fact, an important element of telegraph-era warfare. Some writers not only accept but embrace and positively revel in the military’s acronym-happy culture. This helps mark them as “insiders” but it impairs understanding by others not in the group.

When the General Couldn’t See It

An Army Major was trying to help his General see how the Joint Operations Planning and Execution System (JOPES) deals with logistics actions that are planned to occur before deployments. He was describing how the system handles it when the actual deployment dates have not yet been set. This is taken from the transcript of what he said:

Sir: “JOPES organizes the information obtained from the four databases, along with scenario-specific information, into a specific TPFDD plan known by a Plan Identification Number (PID). A PID directly corresponds to an OPLAN or CONPLAN and contains all of the unit line numbers and force modules (described below) associated with that plan’s movement of forces. Dates associated with the movement of forces are known as C-days and N-days. A C-day is an unnamed day on which a deployment operation will commence. When used in conjunction with a C-day, an N-day indicates the number of days preceding the C-Day. For example, N–1 refers to 1 day before C-day, N–2 refers to 2 days before C-day, and so on. At execution of the deployment, an actual date is assigned as C-day”.

For some reason the General didn’t see it and didn’t get it. Four others in the room at the time didn’t get it either.)

Madison Avenue “Mad Men” Jargon

Now, see if you understand this.

The boss asked us to think out of the box, so we pushed the envelope, took a helicopter view and decided to boil the ocean a bit. We put on our end user face and concluded that a land and expand approach would be a win-win for everybody. So, as soon as we get our ducks in a row we can move forward with the folks from the cubicle farm doing the heavy lifting but keeping us in the loop.

Technical Jargon

Some engineers wrote this. See if you understand the problem.

Problems with the Regurgitive Purwell:– Most of our errors are being caused by parastatic conductance resulting from the differential spurving of the hydroscopic marslevanes located in the prefabulated amilite base of the unilateral detractor mechanism. We have attempted to fix this by manestically spacing the grouting brushes on the periphery of the nubbing purwell but this has not been effective. [Note: The grouting brushes have been a problem for a long time.]

True confession: It is a fake, but how would you know?

Tips for Survival in a World of Acronyms

  • Don’t use them yourself.
  • Create an acronym-free zone where you work.
  • And, just to be safe, don’t leave home without your AEM.
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