Resist the initialization of the world (please)

MEC or meh?Over the holidays, I was in the store formerly known as Mountain Equipment Co-op. Great name, isn’t it? Without even trying, you can tell it sells outdoor recreation gear and clothing. One of their taglines is “Outside is our place. Canada is our backyard.” Nice.

In 2013, the company decided to rebrand itself as “MEC” and removed the mountain from the logo. Apparently, customers always said “MEC” anyway (“Meck” or “M-E-C”? I’m not sure), and taking the mountain away is meant to include those of us who have no mountains nearby. Still, the name doesn’t make me think of outdoor recreation any more. It makes me think of “meh.”

Company names aside, the practice of using acronyms (initial letters pronounced as a word, like OPEC or MECK) and initialisms (letters sounded individually, like I-B-M or M-E-C) is everywhere in corporate life. It’s not personal or friendly, and it doesn’t help clear communication. You and I may not be able to influence marketing rebrands, but we CAN help reduce the initialization of the written word:

  • Keep a list of terms commonly used by your company or your client so you can be clear about the meaning. Often, if you ask people using the term what the initials stand for, they don’t know. And even if they say, “Everyone knows what it means,” you can bet someone doesn’t. What about new employees, or people whose first language isn’t English?
  • If you must use the term in your writing, be clear by spelling out the meaning first. Put the initials in brackets if they will be used again elsewhere. Example: key performance indicators (KPIs), not KPIs (key performance indicators).
  • Try to avoid using the initials again, especially if several terms in one sentence are going to turn it into alphabet soup.
  • Use another word on a second reference rather than initials or abbreviations. A piece I read on road ecology referred to Wildlife/Vehicle Collisions (WVCs) and kept using WVCs afterwards. Better to just say “collisions” rather than make readers remember what WVC stands for.

What do you think? Am I just being cranky, or do acronyms and initialisms bug you, too?

Related reading:
I lamented the same trend in “Can we please use real words?
Sports terms and insider jargon are other ways that hide meaning

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