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Acronym soup – getting lumpier

June 26, 2018

The world is full of innovations that fogeys like me find it hard to understand.

There was a time when acronyms were devices used to spare us from having to spell out concepts and things that can only be described by using multiple words. Unlike the Germans, who happily string nouns together in concatenations that take up entire lines of a page, we English-speakers consider compound nouns rather bad form.

Technical writers and bureaucrats are encouraged to spell out a term the first time they use it, follow it with an acronym in brackets, and then use the acronym thereafter. That makes sense. After all, why would you want to spell out North Atlantic Treaty Organisation or Personal Identification Number more than once in a two-thousand-word document, especially when everyone knows what the acronym means?

But now, it seems, since acronyms started to be used to describe people as well as things, they seem to have become organic. They mutate and expand. They evolve.

This is fine if you understand the evolving species, but if not, it can be deeply confusing.

Here’s an example. I don’t have a problem understanding what LGBT means. Even with a Q attached I’m just about there, though I fail to understand how the word queer defines a set of people who you would think are covered by the first four letters.

But now things get complicated. A couple of days ago I happened upon an article on the BBC website about someone who’s getting married, but claims that she will always be bisexual. Which is fine by me, and in this day and age hardly worthy of comment, you might think.

And yet, judging by this quote from the article, this is clearly not the case:

“Bisexuality often needs an explanation. It isn’t something you can often ‘read’ on a person and because of that bi people sometimes feel like an invisible part of the LGBTQIA community.”

The letters LGBTQIA stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex and asexual or allied.

Crikey. The original acronym has mutated into something that feels as if it has been crafted by a committee on sexuality and agreed upon after much negotiation. It sounds more like one of those old trade union names – Boilermakers, Brain Surgeons and Allied Trades, for example – before media-savvy unions started using snappy names like Unite.

It’s also mutated beyond the point that it can be used in normal conversation. NATO pretty easily trips off the tongue. After all, it only has two syllables. But LGBTQIA has seven, and I find it hard to imagine anyone saying it out loud. Nor, I imagine, would anyone, if asked which category they fall into, reply that they’re questioning or allied.

Which for some reason reminds me of a fond fantasy I had in the punk era. In Birmingham, where I lived at the time, there was a celebrated disc jockey whose stage name was Vic Vomit. I remember desperately wanting to call his home, and, when his mum picked up the phone, saying “good afternoon Mrs Vomit, may I speak to Vic please?” But of course I was far too polite.

Anyway, back to acronyms. I still regard myself as someone who’s aware of social trends and the language used to describe people who like to categorise themselves one way or another. BAME, which stands for Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic, is another term that’s gaining traction in the United Kingdom. But I still struggle to get a fix on that one. Does it refer to anyone whose skin is not a reddish pink (depending on how much alcohol the person regularly imbibes)? Or do Latvians, Poles and Transylvanians – who are still as far as I know minority ethnic groups in my country – fall into the category?

Perhaps it’s time to embrace this hunger to categorise oneself. The only problem is how. White Middle-Aged Middle-Class Southern English, or WMAMCSE? No, that would never do – what about ethnic origin? “English” is just not good enough these days. Now that DNA testing has become quite popular, should one not add “of Viking, Anglo-Saxon and Mongolian origin”, creating, for a small subgroup of citizens, WMAMCSEVASM? Or just VASM for short?

Actually, I prefer temporary acronyms that describe one’s political affiliations. On that basis the category I most neatly fit into is Anti-Trump Brexit-Loathing Centrist, or ATBLC. Now that’s pretty concise, is it not?

But I can’t help thinking that “liberal” would do the job just as well. Just as long as nobody calls me a liberal gammon….

From → Social, UK

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