This week a client asked me, “Is it okay to write CEO?”
I was a bit taken aback because CEO is one of those ‘words’ that is better known by its shortened version than its elongated other – Chief Executive Officer.
Copy required for newspapers must maximise efficiency as space is premium and no editor will accommodate three words, when three letters will serve the same purpose adequately.
Some organisations and concepts have preferred usage in their abbreviated form than their full name or title such as Opec or Unesco, LED, HTML and radar.
You know exactly what they mean and how they apply, right? So why worry yourself by delving into the long form.
What is interesting however is how abbreviations are classed. There are two main types: initialisms and acronyms.
Acronyms are shortenings of phrases that use, usually the first letter of each of the words, to make up a new word.
- NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation)
- AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome)
OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries)
- ASAP (as soon as possible)
- Radar (radio detecting and ranging)
Scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus)
In many style guides, it is recommended to write these contractions in word style, meaning to start with a capital letter and use lower case characters for the remaining. Others prefer to use all capital letters, while some have preferences on a case by case basis.
Initialisms are abbreviations that take the initials of the word and each letter is pronounced separately such as FBI, DVD, BTW, IBM.
If a word is used in its shortened form such as Dr, Mrs, Prof, Wifi, biopic and takes neither the characteristics of an acronym nor an initialism, it is simply an abbreviation.
BTW (By the way) not all grammar sites and dictionaries agree; this is my view.
And if you are not confused enough, there’s also a word form called a backronym. Another time perhaps?
No damn synchronicity: Synonyms and antonyms
I was recently at an Editing for Inclusivity workshop which aimed to address racial, gender and all other kinds of stereotyping that fills our communication to an embarrassing extent.
This applies in both written and verbal exchanges, only easier to forget and forgive when stated verbally.
In an effort to make workshop attendants better editors, in one exercise, we scrutinised a blog ‘The pot calling the kettle black’
In the racially charged environment, such that South Africa presents, it was considered extremely bad taste. The essence of the blog, was the current president accusing the former president of something he failed to address, the author stating that the current president had done no better.
Suffice to say, use of the word ‘black’ stirred racial angst and the blog drew more than its fair share of flak. Some even said all idioms referencing colour should be dropped from the English language.
I would not like to see that happen. But what I can suggest is that writers avoid the use of insensitive idioms that could offend certain groups, and opt for others that mean the same thing. The English language has a vast array of idioms and finding an alternative cannot be that difficult.
She (the blogger) could have gone with “Take the log out of your eye before you look to take the speck out of mine.”
This has seen many incarnations with the ‘log’ being substituted with beam, etc
Here are some:
- English Standard Version
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
- Berean Study Bible
You hypocrite! First take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
- Berean Literal Bible
Hypocrite! First cast out the beam from your eye, and then you will see clearly to cast out the splinter from the eye of your brother.
- King James Bible
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
This idiom means that people are quick to see faults in others that they fail to see in themselves.
Isn’t this a human failing many of us are guilty of? And yet the blogger was trying to say the president is a hypocrite for failing to see the error of his own ways, while quick to point out the failings of the former man at the helm.
When all else fails, drop the idiom and use the phrase as you intend it to be understood. Better safe than sorry.
Why is the world your oyster?