The long and short of it

08-Mar-2013

It may seem redundant to say this when writing a blog entry, but the way we now communicate has changed almost beyond what could have been imagined 20 years ago. The fact that I am able to post an article online to a global audience and it is not considered remarkable in the slightest is still remarkable to me, when twenty years ago there was no real “online” to speak of.

With the growth of the web being yesterday’s news and social media forming an ever-more essential part of our everyday lives, it is hardly surprising that these technologies have given rise to new ways of presenting the English language. In my previous entry for BlendedMEC, I discussed my feelings about texting and the language it has created. Now, I’m turning my attention towards a related topic: abbreviations. Think of this blog entry as “textspeak – part two”.

An advantage of using textspeak is that it has become a common form of communication. It may seem alien to some people but once you have learnt a few of the most common text shorthands, it becomes relatively straightforward to follow. However, shorthands don’t only apply to our social lives. We use abbreviations and acronyms regularly in our working lives as well and many are now more common than the full expression they represent. For example, a person who operates at the head of a company is a CEO, an urgent request by email must be done ASAP and the approximate time work will be delivered by is an ETA. It has become second nature for many of us to talk in this way.

Given the abbreviated example of the publishing sector I work in (ELT) it is perhaps unsurprising that abbreviations are so commonplace. We spend much of the working day speaking in shorthand. From exam names such as CPE, BULATS, TOEFL and TOEIC to levelling systems such as CEFR and ALTE, there’s always an abbreviation to be aware of. We make an assumption that people within the ELT community know these terms. And by and large, the assumption is a correct one.

But sometimes abbreviations can cause confusion. People misunderstand what the abbreviation actually stands for and spend the entire conversation assuming that you’re talking about something else entirely. It is then later, only through the context, that the real meaning is determined. By that point the conversation you might have thought you were having no longer makes sense.

So I say, every once in a while, let’s enjoy our language in its full unadulterated form and when you find yourself on the verge of shortening a word or phrase to a more esoteric abbreviated form, ask yourself the question “Will this make sense to anyone else?”

Below are some Macmillan English Campus resources dealing with common English abbreviations and expressions that are useful for an English language student to learn.

MVA004374 – Acronyms
MVA006293 – Bills included?
MVA005553 – Work expressions

Jeremy

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