Friday, 29 June 2012

TLA Tales

Quick ranty blog.  This one has been bubbling in my Evernote 'Blog Ideas' file for a while now, just waiting for the motivation to develop and publish it. And this morning, I finally lost patience and have written this piece.  What kicked it off?  Another bloody Three Letter Acronym in my twitter stream, the meaning of which I do not know.  Do I know what the miscreant is talking about? No, I don't. Can I be arsed looking it up? No, I can't.  Do I feel excluded? Yes, I do.
I find the unthinking use of acronyms in meetings, discussions, Project Plans, Twitter, Blogs and the like disempowering, smug and elitist.

Yes, they have a place - in a closed, all-informed forum, where everyone in the loop knows the jargon.  Outside of that, how dare you assume that I know what you're talking about, or that I will take time out of my busy day to look it up.  IPOs, APIs, SEOs, SEN, TED, REM, RAB - it doesn't matter how many times I look at these and other three letter acronyms (or shall we just call them TLAs and have done with it?), I can never remember what they mean.  And why should I?  Just 'cos you're too lazy to write it out in full doesn't mean I should have to fill my head up with even more jargon, which I may or may not need for weeks or months later, if ever again.  If your communication needs a Jargon/Acronym Buster appendix, it's safe to assume that I'm not necessarily the right audience for your message.

Look, I've been guilty of it myself. It's easy to slip into within any given culture. For instance, when I became the IT Training Manager for Sussex Police, I was immediately exposed to 'Acronym City' - IT and Police Jargon in one big melting pot!  But I was in the club, and I soon picked it up, and dammit, I soon started using these self same acronyms myself.  In FirstGroup, a UK  public transport operator, we have all sorts of Bus and Rail-related acronyms, some of which still elude me even after seven years...! But these are internal discussions, where it behoves us to get to know the language of the business.
However, if we're communicating with an uninitiated or general audience, that's a different matter.  Show some respect and consideration. Keep your TLAs to yourself and your buddies.  Don't assume that the rest of us know what you're talking about.  Because I/we probably don't; I/we might be too embarassed to ask, but more importantly, I/we resent the fact that you're too lazy/smug/insecure (delete as appropriate) to speak with clarity and include me/us in a meaningful conversation.


  1. Hi Niall. I don't disagree with you on the whole - I work in a place where the TLAs practically constitute a whole new language, and it's incredibly frustrating when you don't know the lingo. This is also something that's being covered in a written communications resource I'm working on at the moment.

    But, playing devil's advocate a bit, isn't Twitter its own (slightly special) kettle of fish? You say that if a communication needs a jargon-buster appendix then you're probably not the right audience for that message. But part of the point of Twitter is that you can't tailor your audience. As a tweeter (who enters into the spirit of it and doesn't make people ask permission to follow me!), I can't control who sees each message. And there will be times when I tweet something that I know will only be of interest to some (not all) of my followers. Part of the fun of Twitter is filtering, picking and choosing what to read, what to skim over, what to investigate more... So I'm just wondering if the 'rules' are a bit different for Twitter...?

  2. I agree with this on so many levels. I sometimes feel that so-called professionals are acting like groups of teenage kids that use special slange to exclude those who aren't in their clique. I've had a couple of real fights recently because I will not allow learning materials to be filled with TLAs.

  3. You used a T(wo)LA on me last Friday! I had to look up what #FF means. For those of you not in the Twitterverse it means Follow Friday, and is the practice of introducing people to each other who might share interests. A bit like what a good host does at a party where no one knows each other.

  4. Love the challenge Steph; thanks. And the point is well made. I guess the thing I missed in my piece is the difference between a closed audience in a business, and a more widely dispersed professional community, for which Twitter is the ideal medium. Maybe I'm just embarassed that I don't know everything that everyone else knows - or makes out that they do?

    Wendy, we are so on the same wavelength here!

    Thanks both for your time and insights.


  5. Benedict. Another great challenge. I was so conscious of needing to be squeaky clean on this myself, but you've nailed it! At least you could be bothered to go and find out what #FF meant. Others might not, and I would have been hoist by my own petard. Thanks.

  6. Twitter's limitation to 140 characters encourages us to shorten wherever possible... we hope or assume that when we do, we've made our meaning apparent enough for others to decipher. Often there's some degree of care & effort in that process.

    Acronymn don't have that care. They are designed to be (lazy) shorthand and by their nature exclusive. The trouble is that most of us have never sat down and thought about the impact it has upon others.

    Good rant Niall(!) but also a good reminder to think about how our language excludes if we don't use care.

  7. Thanks David. I take everyone's comments about the Twitter abbreviations on board, and recognise that they can be a disincentive to the Twitter-hesitant/resistant; valid point. Hoping that my rant did not in itself alienate people - I don't often fire from the hip, but it didn't half feel good!
    Cheers again

  8. Replies
    1. Oh Jim.... It's in the blog! Three Letter Acronym. That was the point of the blog, LOL (which means Laugh Out Loud, just in case anyone else thought, like David Cameron, that it meant Lots of Love... bless).