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Three score and ten or more

Sunday, July 22, 2007


When I was a child, acronyms were scarce, but those that existed were easily identifiable and meaningful. USA stood for our country, FBI stood for national law enforcement and the Untouchables, and there were a substantial number of other governmental acronyms ranging from FAA and FCC to FDA and IRS. Most of those beginning with “F” had something to do with the Federal government, and the few Federal acronyms that did not begin with F (Like IRS) were sort of mysterious sounding things like OSS.

With the onset and progress of the Second World War, we began to hear quasi or semi governmental terms like AWOL, SNAFU, KILROY, SOS, SHAEF (The military went acronym crazy before almost anyone else, and an exhaustive list of military acronyms would take pages and pages. I have even found acronyms in military papers that were acronyms for combinations of other acronyms.)

I spent about half of my freshman year in college working in the official government documents repository (which, has probably been renamed O GOD R by now) in the college library and woke up one time in the middle of the night after dreaming I was doing the backstroke through waves of government acronyms..

With all this acronymic history one would think I could acclimate to the surging crop of acronyms. I understand CPR, after all I once was a qualified WSI (water safety instructor) but my mind went into an acronym fry the other evening watching television. One of the commercials advertised a medicine for URD, and I was almost through the commercial before I realized that he was talking about the common cold. (I presume that URD stands for upper respiratory distress or disease, or something like that). Almost every physical status now has an acronym. What we called croup, and/or emphysema or any ONE of the diseases that made one’s breathing difficult has now become COPD. What was once called male impotence has now become ED (for erectile disfunction, in itself a difficult phrase to parse without at least a raised eyebrow). I once spent a rather entertaining half hour imagining other acronyms for that syndrome. I came up with PP, DJ, LJ, SP, FRANK, BA, and a variety of others. The actual terminology for each of these I will leave to your imagination except for one term. I still resent the writer on the cop TV show who decided to rename the penis with my surname.

Speaking of cop shows and acronyms if the California Highway Patrolman is a CHIP, what is an Idaho Highway Patrolman, an IHIP? (I can hear it now, the motorcycle patrolman hitting on the sweet young thing by telling her “I HIP”. Or the Utah patrolman UHIP (He better be prepared either to be musical or duck—at least it wouldn't be UHIPS or he couldn’t duck fast enough.) Or if we want to deal with political correctness did you realize that Wisconsin, Washington, and Wyoming all have their streets guarded by WHIPs?

I can’t remember all of the acronyms I heard this week in television commercials but I heard an acronym for baldness (or at least hair loss), obesity (I am still sensitive about that term itself, though as I slowly seem to be losing weight my sensitivity lessens.) Almost every student in every classroom now has his or her own acronym. ADD, ADHD, G&T, and I even heard, on the Learning Channel, I believe, and acronym for a normal student, but I can’t remember what it was. (One of the blessings and curses of Coothood – not an acronym- is selective memory.) I have come to the conclusion that I really can’t fight the acronymic explosion in our current language. It would be hypocritical to do so since I still have cards that list my name followed by BA, MFA. PhD, and since one of my children working for the military is in charge of ITAM (I don’t have a clue,) at a military base, but I wouldn’t want the army to eliminate that acronymic organization because of my protest. She still has house payments to make.

Though I can’t do away with the acronym completely, I have made a decision that I will not, under any circumances buy a product that is identified in a television (or other) commercial with an acronym. Maybe that small gesture can lead to a stronger measure, though my MD, or my LLD will probably give me some instruction that will require me to violate that principle


At 5:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never heard of URD before. It'e written as URTI in hospital charts - upper respitory tract infection but I can remember seeing your surname used as a euphemism in American novels back in the 50s.

At 6:02 AM, Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

Oops, sorry - that was me. I forgot to change my user name from the one I use to insult moonbats.

At 8:57 PM, Blogger Three Score and Ten or more said...

In the commercial they didn't spell it, someone spoke it and it's possible I heard urti as urd. It is still silly.

At 3:36 PM, Anonymous Kathleen said...

Glad you're back.

Great post. I have a slight problem with acid indigestion. Someone recently told me that I had GERD. To which I said, mind your own business. ;)

Excellent post.

At 5:01 PM, Blogger Gayle said...

I guess you won't be purchasing an iPod anytime soon. Neither will I!

When I went to work for Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin) the acronyms almost drove me crazy. Every program is identified by an acronym and they have a lot of programs. Everything they referred to in each program was also identified by an acronym. They had a book two inches thick full of nothing but acronyms that they gave me to memorize. Did I memorize it? No, not on your life. But I kept it close by in case I needed to refer to it. I think the administrator who told me I should memorize it was high on something. :)

At 2:18 PM, Blogger Norma said...

One of my favorite acronyms is JAMA, which actually is the offical title of the Journal of the American Medical Association. For some reason, when it is cited, writers neglect to use the acronym (the real title since 1959). Anyway, doctors and researchers work very hard coming up with acronyms for clinical research. You've got to admit, acronyms save a lot of time--like http or ptsd or pdf or CDC--which are real tongue twisters if you say the words.


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