linguist • writer • editor • lecturer • broadcaster
[Thursday 03 January, 2013]
Did you see Mr. Fred Crumb talking about the GCSE exam during the phone-in on BBC telly last night?
It doesn’t matter whether you did or not; the point is, have you noticed what’s interesting about that sentence? Over a third of the words - 7 out of 19 - are abbreviations. An abbreviation, quite simply, is the shortened form of a word. You’ll find abbreviations everywhere, and they’re of many different kinds. One dictionary lists over 400,000 of them in English! The main reason for having them will be obvious if you rewrite the opening sentence in its full form.
Did you see Mister Frederick Crumb talking about the General Certificate of Secondary Education examination during the telephone-in on British Broadcasting Corporation television last night?
What a mouthful! And notice how much extra space it takes up. Using abbreviations can save you, as well as your listener or reader, a lot of time and effort. Not only that. If a group of people uses the same abbreviations, it shows they’re all in the same ‘gang’. And if they don’t know the abbreviations, it shows they’re not one of the gang. If Fred says, Smith was out l.b.w., and Jim asks What’s l.b.w?, you don’t need an A in English to know that Jim isn’t much of a cricket fan! On the other hand, it’s unwise to overuse abbreviations. Sentences can quickly become obscure if you get into the habit of putting in too many abbreviations and start talking in ‘initialese’. Try this one:
The LA DJ had lost his ID, so he couldn’t MC the ITV debate about NATO radar GHQ.
OK? (If not, look at the entry under acronym.)
Related notions: blend, clipping, jargon, word

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