W.D.W.N.S.M.A.A (Why do we need so many acronyms anyway?) Are acronyms starting to overshadow practical naming in learning?

Paul Woodward
8th June 2018 at 18:16

Subject Genius, Paul Woodward, Are acronyms starting to overshadow practical naming in learning?

I was listening to a 'classic' 80's track the other day and I was reminded of a bugbear of mine. There was a line which (quite painfully to a musician) simply doesn't fit in with the rhythm of the track and has more syllables than the singer can comfortably fit into that line. It seems that the singer was determined to get a meaningful and descriptive line into a catchy tune but one where it really doesn't fit. Much in the same way that we tend to do with acronyms in education.

Now, don't get me wrong, some acronyms are great. Some can help you remember a series of keywords such as ACCESSFM which is fantastic even if I do have to remind my students that it's not a radio station. Others are a practical way of condensing down a mouthful of long words into something more manageable, but every so often (and increasingly too often) they seem to work the other way round with the catchy title leading the words or phrases within it.

How often have you come across an acronym that seems to have run out of steam before the last few letters which leads to a desperate attempt to add in some word to make a tenuous connection to the original theme?

Conversely, how many perfectly acceptable titles get overlooked because an acronym may not be quite appropriate. Certainly, my 'Behaviour and Lifelong Learning Skills' course sounded great on paper but the acronym didn't go down so well with management.

D&T is a real culprit here with everything from the aforementioned ACCESSFM, through SCAMPER, DIRT, KISS, CAFEQUE, FAIL, SAIL, QC, QA, CA, NEA, SCARED, CAD, CAM, CNC, CIM, FACES, FAR, PICTPD, SATSUMAS, PRIDE, WAGOLL, RTQ, PEEZL, WALT, AFL, BUG, PIC to name but a few. Even that favourite STEM is constantly being modified to add in Art and more lately a suggestion of Enterprise and Design leaving us with STEAMED.

I digress, but once upon a time an acronym was simply made up from the words in the title; EAL being a nice simple example and they were probably introduced to save space on a poster or nameplate.  Nowadays it’s almost like trying to learn a third language and, having started on a CLIL course, I really do believe that for an EAL student, acronyms are Level 3 language; something to try and learn on top of a spoken or written language.

Clearly, this blog is more of a rant this week but I have sat through far too many meetings, INSET (again) and CPD (another one there) where the ‘creative’ use of an acronym seems to overshadow its content or original intent.

It seems that when you look at the abbreviated version of your course, initiative or whatever, there is this strange compulsion to rearrange so it spells some word to make it easier to remember, more memorable or more appropriate to the topic or theme. I know because I habitually do it, even though my pragmatic alter ego tells me just to leave it alone. I have simply been conditioned by a system that likes to reduce words, which is quite strange when you think that we have moved on from the days of paying per word in print.

Of course, none of this really makes much of a difference, it’s simply a naming system and we have all had fun either guessing what the acronym stands for, rearranging letter into something more humorous or making our own up for amusement. Acronyms leading the content is one trend I would like to fall out of favour soon, it’s not just that they can sound a little ridiculous at times but they can over complicate something that is already easy to understand as it is or that could simply be put better another way.

Let us not forget that some of the most harmless acronyms have been subverted to other more familiar meanings. I would rather not name and shame any here but Google is your friend again, so do have a look for acronyms that got it very wrong indeed. If your name is Kelly, it's best that it doesn’t precede Kindergarten Kids as your business name, especially if you plan on shortening that one.

Normal service will resume soon but, in the meantime, please do check your acronyms aren’t just there to try and sound catchy, watch out for how easily they could be ‘modified’ especially in print form, and conversely, if you did decide to go with the words, just take care that someone else can’t get an acronym out of it that might leave you a little red-faced!

Paul has taught and led design and technology in a variety of schools as well as working as a musician, artist, designer, examiner, moderator, resource author and D&T consultant. He is currently the Head of Creative Arts at a large independent school in the North of England.

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