Ditch the acronyms!

It’s amazing how much jargon exists in everyday life, as well as business. Acronyms, abbreviations, “in” phrases and industry slang seem to have become badges of honor for so many of us. It’s as if the use of undecipherable words and letters is a code for a higher level of education or deep inside knowledge of a subject. But it’s getting out of control.

Last week, I visited the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services office in Elizabeth, New Jersey. I was there with my wife completing paperwork and identification so she – an American – could obtain a UK visa for our pending relocation to England. Many people in the waiting area were clearly foreign.

Hanging above the large area where relatives or friends have to wait while the applicants complete their process was a large sign. In big, bold letters it simply read “AIW”. There was no other information in the hall. To this day, I have no idea what it meant, and I consider myself at least semi-literate. Imagine what you would think as a recent immigrant from a non-English speaking country.

The financial markets are no better. Nor for that matter is the public relations industry. When words are used to convey information, but instead sow confusion, they are wasted.

The steady erosion of the accurate use of language is not simply a concern of linguistic purists. It damages the art of communication – as do many digital channels, such as texting (but that’s for another time).

In the PR world, phrases like “off the record” and “background” are still loosely used and understood by many. If the vast majority of the media and clients do not agree on them, then they are worse than useless. That’s because misinterpreting or misunderstanding language can have effects even greater than a complete lack of communication. The Tower of Babel is the most ancient example I can think of.

Industry associations are even worse, seeming to revel in the use of acronyms. But financial markets take first prize. This list alone provides more than 200 acronyms used in the industry!

While there are modest benefits in saving a syllable here or there, the time spent explaining or looking up phrases far outweighs this. But it’s not just a time-saving matter. Specialists in any area like to feel they are part of a “club”, and relish in a level of language exclusivity. It’s as if this code is membership to a virtual club.

So let’s ditch this nonsense and agree to talk clearly and be understood. At the worst, it will save a lot of time and eliminate the potential for ill-will caused by misunderstanding and miscommunication. More positively, sending clear messages provides direction and certainty. Ultimately that motivates all of us. QED?

To learn more about how Paragon can help you and your business communicate with greater clarity, contact us.

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