When acronyms go bad

There are only 26 letters in the English alphabet, which has proven sufficient for a lexicon of some quarter of a million words or so, but nonetheless appears inadequate for creating non-repeating acronyms. How many times have you changed jobs to find out that at XYZ Corp., “TPS report” stands for “Tactics, Priorities & Strategies Report,” while at NewCo, “TPS reports” means “Talk to the President’s Secretary, she’ll report it to him so you don’t have to.”

I was thinking about that this weekend, when a friend of mine posted the following link to his Facebook page:


I’ve said it before: aren’t moms amazing? I swear, motherhood gives you political — and apparently hostage-negotiation — skills like nothing else. (As my friend said, “I feel sorry for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, but that’s got to be a hell of a recruiting tool.”)

I have to show you the graphic, because if you follow the actual link, someone at the Christian Science Monitor clearly had the big “D’oh!” and removed the last two words since it was originally posted.

(Author’s note: If you don’t know what a MILF is, I’m not telling you. You are by definition on the internet as you read this. Go look it up.)

So it got me to thinking about other acronyms that go two ways, or more than two. I used to work in central administration at Harvard when we were installing a new HR and payroll system, the doing of which required us to get clear on a lot of our HR policies and practices. Anyway, you can take two kinds of medical leave at Harvard: short- and long-term disability. Which are referred to by, of course, acronyms.

Which is why, when the benefits lady said, “We more or less consider pregnancy to be an STD,” I really shouldn’t have choked on my coffee and blurted out, “Good Lord, I don’t even want kids and I find that offensively cynical!”

Acronym lag. It happens to the best of us. Share your stories (SOS)!

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17 Responses to When acronyms go bad

  1. bluemoose says:

    I had been reading a lot of my backlog of Ms. magazines when I started my previous job, so I was shocked and horrified when people at an historical society kept talking about FGM. There, it only meant “former governor’s mansion,” not “female genital mutilation.”

  2. Dmajor says:

    Kidnappers? Hostages? “Moms I’d Like to Free”?

    And that departmental “SOL Report”… SOL stands for “Serial Operations Log”? Yeah, sure it does.

  3. Amy R. says:

    The acronym PP has been a big part of the two places I’ve worked for. Sometimes it is really hard to have serious conversations about PPs.

  4. WES says:

    Wedding related Save The Date (STD) great way to start a wedding.

  5. Robin says:

    I seriously did not think anyone could beat my STD story, WES, but that’s a good one!

  6. JoGeek says:

    Oh I hope people aren’t looking up the definition at work :-)

  7. Michelle says:

    Oh yes, I was all over the wedding forums for the last year and couldn’t help but laugh at all of brides sending out STDs to their guests or stressing over which STD to choose. I couldn’t bring myself to use that acronym in my posts. Just couldn’t do it!

  8. dustyrose says:

    Delurking to list a few of my favorite multipurpose acronyms. I work for the government, so I come across a lot of them:

    POV: I was an English major, so I’m used to this meaning Point of View, but at my job it stands for Privately Owned Vehicle.
    GSA: General Services Administration…or gay-straight alliance.
    FOS: Field Operations Supervisor
    PIV: Personal Identity Verification. I always want to giggle when I see this one, because on many of the blogs I read, it refers to a type of sex act.

  9. Molly says:

    In many retail environments, POS stands for Point of Sale. If you are the only one who finds referring to the “POS terminal” funny, then you are in the wrong retail job.

  10. Shulamuth says:

    Back in pre-decimal currency days in the UK, an abbreviated “Pounds, Shillings, Pence” was used as a general term for money. More than one exchange student in the US had to deal with American host-parents being concerned that the students’ family was asking if the students had enough LSD.

  11. Robin says:

    Molly, I have a “Point of Service” health-insurance plan. Makes me laugh every time, too …

  12. EA Week says:

    My mother is in the medical records field, and she uses LOL to refer to a “little old lady,” in other words, an elderly woman (they use LOM to indicate a little old man). Whenever she uses this acronym, I LOL. A lot. : )

    Also, the grocery store I frequent uses abbreviations for food companies, and the abbreviation for Land O Lakes is… you guessed it… LOL. So I always giggle to see that I’ve purchased LOL butter and LOL eggs. This makes looking over my receipt a pretty funny exercise.

    Maybe not as funny as STD and POS, though.

  13. dustyrose says:

    I realized I forgot one of the funniest ones: T&A stands for Time & Attendance, and since I do payroll, so I have to say “T&A” with a straight face quite frequently.

  14. Robin says:

    It’s funny, dustyrose, how many of these come from HR, which is normally so uptight about sexual harassment and inappropriate language in the workplace!

  15. Robin says:

    Oh, and this isn’t an acronym, but when headlines shorten “nominee” or “nomination” to “nom,” I think “lolcat.” Which makes headlines like “Winslet Gets Oscar Nom” or “GOP Chooses Palin as VP Nom” really funny.

  16. Jim says:

    The Ur-acronym is TLA, which stands for “three-letter acronym”–it names itself, and applies to most acronyms, including those for people with three names. What’s your TLA?

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