The Last Word : Minimalism
Of late I've begun to notice a phenomenon that I can only describe as reduction. Unlike a good chef's boiling down liquid to a thickened flavorful sauce, this reduction of words is very much a shorthand, hasty, dare I say lazy way of communicating. What I'm kvetching about is the preponderance of the use of initials (without periods) for all manner of things. My mother has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for 60 years. Now it's RA, and sounds like something that a 21st century sufferer can bat away while playing tennis. ED is another one. Bet you know what that stands for. Using the initials for it made it possible for a former presidential candidate to speak of it on television with a smile. Read any newspaper article and the minute a committee or group is named, it is summed up by its initials, usually correctly punctuated with parenthesis and quote marks so that you know the next reference will be in three capital letters: the Local Arsonists Collaborative (LAC) contends that the Watering Hole Society (WHS) is standing in their way as they make plans to celebrate May Day (MD). An inattentive reader, or one with short-term memory loss (STML) is up a creek.
This isn't exactly a new phenomena: certainly we remember the SDS and the NAACP. But it just seems to me that we've taken this initializing to greater lengths. Wikipedia defines this as either initialism or alphabetism. I love that. Acronym is the more recognized term for making words out of initials although an acronym tends to be a pronounceable word such as scuba or radar. (Bet you forgot those are acronyms.) The recent visit of our friend in Washington brought an acronym to my attention I'd never seen before: Potus. It was used so frequently, yet without definition, so that it took me a while to figure it out - President of the United States. Evidently I wasn't briefed on the correct acronym for the leader of the free world, but I like it. Ms. Obama is Flotus. In the olden days, my youth, presidents tended to be known by their initials, JFK, LBJ, a trend that fell out of favor with Nixon.
Our friends at Wiki go on to say that these creations are a subcategory of blending, that is, making new words out of other words, which, after all isn't a new trend at all but a very old one. For example breakfast is built on the phrase breaking one's fast. Perhaps it's just that the alphabetisms (alphabet is, by the way, a blend using the alpha beta of the two first letters of the Greek, uh, alphabet, but you probably knew that) are coming fast and furiously (FAF) in the years since texting has become a modern method of communication. LOL. BFF. Lose the vowels and thumb that message faster. What I wonder is why the abbreviated form wasn't invented back in the day of the telegraph. Think about how much time and money would have been saved by tapping the Morse code for: Have arrived safely in Los Angeles FULL STOP I wish that you were here FULL STOP, with: arvd sfle LA. wsh u r hre.
Maybe texting is really a 21st century version of the telegraph. The tapping of keys persists. Is the telephone outdated, a modern convenience that has served out its time? Is receiving a text message during Thanksgiving dinner as exciting as a young lad in a cap and on a bicycle ringing your doorbell to deliver a telegram? I digress.
Initialism is so rampant that people instinctively assign whole words to the letters: IM, Instant Messaging; CD, Compact Disc; BS - well, you see what I mean. The initials make sense, a critical value for any shorthand method of communication. If you're listening to Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo, you know when they speak of RBIs they're talking about runs batted in. The listener understands the initials within the context.
Speaking of baseball, another related phenomena I've noticed is the abbreviation of certain celebrities' names into hyphenated words. A-Rod. J-Lo. Is this shorthand or a pseudo familiarity? Do these people think of themselves by these foreshortened names? My guess is that those names evolved out of the media's need for quick communication, or an insider's witticism leaked out and commandeered by the media, which then applied it to all and sundry. I like to think that had this trend begun long ago, superstars of the past might have been called M-Mo (Marilyn Monroe) or J-Gar (Judy Garland). Maybe even K-Hep (Katharine Hepburn).
I live in OB, on Martha's Vineyard, where I work at MVM and edit the DCI. Egad - what a rush.