From Our Inbox

Attack of the killer acronyms

As one who works in a word factory, and takes a proprietary interest in the preservation of the raw material, my subject today is the attack of the killer acronyms. Everywhere you go, acronyms are serving where honest words were once employed.

How did this happen? It used to be that a person had to go into the military, also known as the DOD, to encounter acronyms in brigade strength.

Perhaps because of a shortage of Navajo code talkers, the DOD continues to add to its vast store of acronyms in order to confuse the enemy and civilians. Even bad words have acronyms among those who serve, an enduring source of pride to veterans everywhere.

So when someone is at a FOB eating an MRE, temporarily safe from IEDs and contemplating SNAFUs, he or she can long for the day when discharge comes and the weary warrior can use actual words once again.

No such luck. The DOD may be the acronym producer-in-chief, but other government bureaucracies have played their part in turning the English language into alphabet soup.

Many states have their departments of transportation, which they call DOT and adorn with something else in a futile attempt to make the agencies more cozy sounding. In Pennsylvania, we have PennDOT, and never mind that this bureaucracy isn’t a dot but a huge glob of government that makes nobody feel cozy down at the DMV.

It isn’t just public servants who sling the acronyms. Business, nonprofit and academic circles are also fond of using letters when words might do. But perhaps the greatest boost to the acronym industry was the invention of smartphones to dumb down communication. Text messages and tweets are fast becoming completely incomprehensible to the technologically unsavvy, i.e. me. If you don’t believe me, all I can say is LOL.

Careful readers — or as we know them in my trade, PPBs, Perfect Pains in the Butt — will recognize that a distinction can be made between acronyms and initialisms, which are spoken as initials — not as actual sounding words such as Sonar (the military again). Thus IRS is pronounced only as the initials for what it stands for — the Infernal Revenue Service.

In regards to this careful distinction, I have decided to go AWOL and treat all acronyms, however arrayed, as the common enemy of words. So there.

And now it is time for pet peeves. The trouble with pets is that every so often the pet owner must take his peeves out for a walk, and it’s no different for dogs than acronyms. You don’t have to have a STEM education to know this.

Ah, STEM education. Apparently a law exists that every discussion of education must now include the acronym STEM. I hope I do not have to explain to you what this stands for, because if so this lack of knowledge has already doomed your offspring for generations hence. Having not focused on math and science and stuff, they will have to flip burgers or, worse yet, work at newspapers.

I can’t stress enough how important STEM education is. It’s just that I am sick of hearing the acronym. Is there not a word — modern, advanced, epoch-creating — that could be deployed in the service of the idea?

Now I turn sadly to the acronym LGBT, which refers to a community I have been highly supportive of for years. Yet whenever I hear LGBT, I think of a BLT sandwich. Forgive me. It is not prejudice; it is the power of bacon. Now more initials have been added to the acronym, which has become LGBTQIA in some circles. It’s as if a mad Scrabble player has been put in charge of a cause.

Does nobody realize that acronyms essentially dehumanize the people they cover, which is the last thing this group wants or deserves? Could not one word work for all? My recommendation is that if a suitable English word is not available, someone should call up the French, who have a word for everything.

Members of ISIS, IS or ISIL have arrived pre-dehumanized on the world scene and they terrorize us with several acronyms. Are there not a few words for the whole wretched bunch? Surely the word “sadists” has not lost its power. “Vicious demented fools” has a nice ring to it, too.

Attack of the killer acronyms. It’s getting to the stage where Americans will have to go to classes in English as a foreign acronym just to get by.

Reg Henry is deputy editorial-page editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Readers may email him at

©2014 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette