Acronyms and abbreviations are useful weapons in any writer’s armoury, but, as with any weapon, they should be handled with care. I thought it might be useful to examine some of the ways in which they can be misused, and if you can avoid these then you can get your licence.
When you’re sketching out your draft it’s only natural to take a few short-cuts, so, for example, if you’re writing about Northern Ireland-related terrorism, you might use NIRT to save you a few key depressions and to get your ideas onto the page more quickly, but it really shouldn’t feature in the finished product (as it has done) – it sounds a bit silly (and ugly), and trivialises the subject matter.
Reverse-engineering is another danger, where you come up with your pet abbreviation and then desperately try to shoe-horn some words in to fit. Because the words have no real meaning, after a bit people forget what the abbreviation ever stood for in the first place – which, I suppose, isn’t a disaster if they understand what they’re supposed to do with, for example, CQuINS.
But quirky can work – I came across MAMBA the other day, which stands for ‘miles and miles of b*gger all’, and is a useful thing to have if, for example, you want to build a high-speed rail line between points A and B without any tunnels and curves. It made me smile, and it’s actually quite a useful concept.
Is there ever a case for a two-letter abbreviation? I think not. LA might be OK as a term of endearment for Los Angeles, but to my mind it just doesn’t work as a short form for ‘local authority’. But you see it a lot. Maybe there should be a rule about how many characters you must save before you’re allowed to use an abbreviation.
Three-letter abbreviations are creeping into football. Robin van Persie as RVP is quite neat, and a gift to headline writers in conjunction with MVP (= Most Valuable Player), or at times this season Arsenal’s OVP, some would say. And AVB saves you having to think about whether Andre Villas Boas needs any accents or hyphens (one of each, I think). Maybe Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be spared – AOC doesn’t have the same sort of ring, and is already something to do with French wine.
Of course abbreviations can take on a life of their own. A few years ago you might have spelled out PIN before using it in anger, but that would now look a bit archaic. And it would be meaningless to write out MOT, which is so called because the test was brought in by the Ministry of Transport, as it was then called but isn’t any more.
I guess as individuals we all have our pet hates. Why not send us yours?