Friday, April 23, 2010


DON FRY RECENTLY WROTE a blog about acronyms such as USA, CIA, FBI, NASA, NBA in which he says that we assume that readers know what they mean.

As a sports copy editor, I was always aware that USC could be the University of Southern California or the University of South Carolina. OSU is either Ohio State or Oregon State. UT is the University of Tennessee or the University of Texas. I covered Charleston Southern (CSU) sports years ago, but my friend Gene went to another CSU, Colorado State.

NASA usually means the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, but it also can mean the National Auto Sport Association. Or the Native American Student Association. Or the Natural Athlete Strength Association. In fact, there are two pages of NASAs found on Acronym Finder.

I hate TV commercials that use acronyms for various maladies or disorders. I never heard of the malady or disorder; how could I know what the acronym means?

TV usually means television, but it COULD mean transvestite, terminal velocity or travel voucher. Or transport vehicles. There were more than two pages of TVs on Acronym Finder.

The point is that you shouldn't throw an acronym out there without thinking. Would my readers really know what this means?

We all think we know what NASA means, but, as Spencer Tracy said in the movie Desk Set, never assume. In fact, Desk Set features a computer with an acronym for a name (EMMARAC, EMIRAC or EMERAC, depending on which web site you visit). The computer, Katherine Hepburn calls it Emily, is meant to ease the workload for Hepburn's research department at a TV network, but they think it's there to take their jobs.

Never assume. Right, Emily?

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  1. When you use an acronym, you must know your audience if you aren't going to explain what it means. But even then, if there is any possibility of misunderstanding, the acronym must always be spelled out in its first occurence.

    If you use NASA and aren't willing to expand it, you'd better be writing about space.

  2. I agree with Ross. He said what I was going to say, only he said it better.