Aggravating Acronyms

A friend told me an excellent story:

When I first started seeing “FTFY” (fixed that for you), I originally thought it meant “fuck that, fuck you.”

I was *so* confused when people used it because they didn’t sound angry at all!

If anything they were being helpful.

It’s a great illustration of how regularly seen acronyms quickly become part of our mental landscape, but are gibberish (or worse, an obscene insult) to an outsider.

The acronym problem is especially bad when it comes to NASA. Just from today’s ‘what’s going on in space’ email I pulled four acronyms:  LADEE, ISS, SSOD, MAVEN. Even though I know all of their connotations, off the top of my head I can’t rattle off what all of the letters stand for in the non-ISS names. Here’s an honest transcript of my attempt at acronym-deciphering:

Lunar…*something * dust… … Small Spacecraft … Orbital? Deployer … Mars Atmosphere … * something*

Obviously, the internet makes it easy to look up the meaning, but that probably takes longer than the time supposedly saved by the acronym. Shouldn’t names be cool and evocative rather than an all-caps puzzle? What names do people remember? Voyager! Dragon! Spirit! Curiosity! Opportunity! Viking! Eagle!

Ironically, the NASA style guide literally calls acronyms a ‘plague.’ 


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