Mar 16, 2013

Acronyms and Jargon

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

Every human activity that wants to pretend to be "professional" disguises itself with acronyms and jargon. I've found that the more psycho-babble a "profession" uses, the more likely what it does is simple and accessible for ordinary people. I spent a good bit of my life in manufacturing and, when I was a manufacturing engineering manager, I banned acronyms from meetings and interdepartmental conversation. I refused to bother to remember what JIT, QA and QC, CA, ROI, SMT, ATE, and a bunch of other silly terms stood for. Just say "just in time," "quality assurance" or "quality control," "cost analysis," "return on investment," "surface mount technology," "automatic test equipment," or whatever thing or activity you're trying to describe. Nobody but other fools are impressed with the list of alphabet collections you've memorized. People who are interested in fixing problems need clear communications, not techno-babble.
When I was sentenced to ten years in medical devices, for my previous poor career choices, I stepped into a whole new world of mis-communications. The thing that popped out over time was the realization that doctors are no more special than engineers or politicians or motorcyclists. Some are really talented and some are so bad that they shouldn't be allowed to prescribe aspirin without adult supervision. The absolute worst cardiologist I ever stood next to in a surgical environment spoke exclusively in series of acronyms, most of which had no relationship to each other and made no more sense than a tele-evangelist "speaking in tongues." The dude cut himself with his scalpel and used a string of acronyms to bitch at his nurse for handing him a sharp knife.
Pretty much anyone who lives in the computer software design world speaks techno-babble. The obvious result is the ill-mannered, user-hostile, virus-laden bugware we all use at work, on the internet, and at home. Video and audio people love acronyms and jargon more than pictures and music. In fact, I think every technology uses these useless non-words to complicate admission into the "club." The upside is that after you've spent the time to learn the jargon, you'll have discovered it was not worth the effort. I think that's an upside.
Motorcycling is starting to develop some motorcycle acronyms, which bothers me. AGAT, for example, is a really bad idea. We should say it loud and proud; all the gear, all the time. Hiding this critical idea behind an acronym is a terrible idea. We need all of the All the Gear, All the Time members we can get. The brand acronyms are the worst; HD (Hundred Dollars . . . for everything from bandanas to oil filters), KTM (Keep Taking Money), and BMW (Broke My Wallet) for example. Clearly disrespectful and divisive. The acronyms of our organizations are just as uninformative and often misinterpreted: ABATE is often mistaken for Always Beer At The Event, for example. The AMA is often confused with the American Medical Association, which really pisses off the docs when bikers show up at one of their tony events. Goofy riders are called SQUIDs, the best interpretation of which is Stupidly Quick, Underdressed and Imminently Dead. The MSF appears to be totally fascinated with acronyms, SEE, FINEC, BRC, ERC, BRC II, and all sorts of secret code letters I can never remember. Lucky for me all the other instructors remember that stuff. I just concentrate on not screwing up my demos and keeping the SQUIDs from killing themselves or other students.
It might be obvious by now, I'm totally unsuited for any activity that requires an ability to remember what a few loosely associated capital letters might mean. In fact, I'm usually inclined to think about something else when I'm expected to know that kind of crap. I can't help but think of these little inside "jokes" as disinformation. While words have meanings and can even hurt us more than sticks and stones, acronyms don't mean squat unless you're in on the joke. As my kids would happily tell anyone who asks, I'm never on the inside of anything. They won't even let me park next to "hip." So, yeah, maybe it's sour grapes but I'm going to continue pretending to avoid acronyms and jargon while everyone else knows that I'm just a clueless goof. No change there, right?


  1. In medical devices (and, probably, medicine) more work seems to go into generating acronyms than gets applied to helping patients. One of the things I've had to figure out in my post-heart attack diet research is that the first refuge of a medical bullshitter is to revert to jargon and acronyms. It's been 11 years since I've thought much about that godawful business but my recent research has been eye-opening and disappointing at the same time.

    At the end of my first follow-up visit with my cardiologist, he said "About 50 years ago, there was an argument between American and British doctors about diet and nutrition. Americans won and we were wrong." Of course, he promptly prescribed 50-year-old American technology drugs and diet after saying that, but he pointed me to a book that counter-advised everything he'd prescribed.

    I can't help but wonder what that all means.

  2. I don't always agree with your posts, but I enjoy reading your rants. My bob job is named "FUBAR" (Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition) and my bagger is "SNAFU" (Situation Normal: All Fouled Up). I'm not normally one to name possessions, but both are old Army acronyms that pretty much apply to my bikes AND life. DILLIGAF? Yes, I do. Keep up the good work. Respects

  3. I am inclined to agree with you on this one.

    All those acronyms just make me thin of people that won't write out proper words and prefer to use the 'texting' version.

    IDK if I'll ever get used to it, LOL. Yeah, like that, annoying yes?

    And there seem to be more and more of them in motorcycle training. I don't remember any from my training in 2002. Except SIPDE and I only remember that one from reading hubby's training guides. I think it stands for "scan, Interpret, Predict, Decide and Execute"

    Oh and we have a riding friend that swears KTM stand for "Kick 'til Monday"

  4. In JN, an RM from TS will run the MN1K. Should be fun. YMMV.

  5. Dude, you're killin' me.


Disagree? Bring it on. Have more to add? Feel free to set me straight. Unfortunately, Blogger doesn't do a great job of figuring out which Anonymous commenters are actually real people, not Russians or Chinese bots. I'm pretty ruthless about spam-labeling anonymous posts. If you have something worth saying, you shouldn't be afraid of using your ID.