The 'No Acronym' Rule: Time to Improve Our Communication

"I wish there were laws or medication designed to stop people from assuming everyone knows the meaning of their acronyms." That was Geomentum CEO Sean Finnegan's much-liked Facebook post last week that drew lots of comment. And I could not agree with Sean more.

Many folks think that throwing acronyms around makes them sound smart, sophisticated, tech-savvy and plugged-in. How wrong they are. The assumptive use of acronyms is a bad habit practiced by way too many people in our industry, and most don't seem to be in any hurry to kick it. Well, it's time that we all unite to help them go cold turkey -- and improve the quality and clarity of the communication in our industry at the same time.

At my last two companies, we had a "No Acronym" Rule. Actually, the rule would probably be better titled the "No Unexplained Acronym" Rule. Any time one of our employees used an acronym without immediately explaining exactly what it stood for, he/she would be fined $1 for each and every person in the conversation.



Here are some of the reasons why I believe we all need to adopt that No Acronym Rule in our industry:

Not respectful of audience.  The moment a speaker in a talk uses an acronym that is not understood by all in the audience, a barrier is created. Using acronyms without explaining what they mean -- unless the meaning is truly self-evident -- is assumptive, arrogant and can be intimidating. It's an "all about me" practice. To many, it says "I know the code. If you don't, tough." That's not the best way to respect your audience.

Slows pace of commerce. All too often, acronym use in our industry is driven by those most tech-savvy, the early adopters, and wielded against the less savvy, the laggards among us. This only heightens and reinforces the tech gap between the groups and slows the adoption of new technologies by those who move only when they understand things more thoroughly. Why add roadblocks to your journey?

Leads to misunderstandings. If you assume people know what you're saying when you're talking in code, you have to expect a lot of misunderstandings. If people don't know what you mean when you use an unknown acronym, they will fill in their own meanings.  Lots of misunderstandings will result.

Lost opportunity to teach. Most of us like to learn new lingo, especially shortcuts to big, complex concepts. But we don't want to seem uninformed, so won't stop to ask for a meaning. It is a good policy to assume in a conversation that the other person DOES NOT understand your acronym, so take the few seconds to explain it. Explaining an acronym to someone you hope to do business with can make you a hero. That will make you seem like a smart teacher, rather than a smart aleck.

Acronyms are good for 140-character tweets and for the military, but they're not good for business. What do you think? Time to pass the laws, or create the medication Sean calls for?

10 comments about "The 'No Acronym' Rule: Time to Improve Our Communication".
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  1. Jason Krebs from Maker, July 28, 2011 at 5:20 p.m.

    Dave, you are the GOAT.

  2. Pete Neumann from Findology Interactive Media, July 28, 2011 at 5:25 p.m.

    There's a great site,, which provides real-people translations for jargon. It's funny at first, and then you realize that you are guilty of talking like that.

    That's when the healing begins.

  3. Roy Perry from Greater Media Philadelphia, July 28, 2011 at 5:32 p.m.

    Admit it, fostering insecurity in "outsiders" (with money) has been a primary driver of the interactive industry's growth in that uncharted ethical free-fire-zone where a certain amount of activity takes place. Glad to see objection at this point to tactics like jargon and acronyms. A sign of maturity?

  4. Chuck Lantz from, network, July 28, 2011 at 7:14 p.m.

    There's a simple writing style rule that, if followed, solves the acronym-itis problem nicely. It also works in conversations.

    The first time the term being "acronymized" is mentioned in writing or conversation, the full term is used, with the acronym immediately following in parentheses. Any further mention can then use only the acronym.

    Like so: "The America's Cup Event Authority (ACEA) met today to discuss their rules. The ACEA consists of....blah-blah-blah"

    By the way, I LOVE this article! Glad to hear that I'm not the only one who feels like a total dope when someone tosses around acronyms that they assume I should know.

  5. Kevin Hawley from Orange, July 29, 2011 at 9:40 a.m.

    When I worked on the IBM account in the early '90s they initiated the year of no acronyms, soon known as TYONA.

  6. Art Zeidman from Pixability, July 29, 2011 at 11:53 a.m.

    Thanks Dave...I couldn't agree more, though Sean's suggestion of medication is a bit extreme. A baseball bat would deliver the same result.

  7. Sid Liebenson from Personifeye, July 29, 2011 at 12:16 p.m.

    Dave, I'm totally with you on this subject. I think acronyms and jargon are too often used as a crutch by people who want to feel superior to you by throwing around terms that you’re not cool enough to understand. And acronym overuse isn't limited to the online community. (Ever try to answer a P&G request for proposal?) Acronyms can obfuscate clear communications, and I’m all for clarity…even though I use words like “obfuscate”.

  8. Sheldon Senzon from JMS Media, Inc., July 29, 2011 at 4:43 p.m.

    Great post, enjoyed it and agree totally. Now, if only the "overly-empowered digital savants" can get the message. You know, the ones who want to "touch base, circle back and reach out", etc.

  9. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc., July 29, 2011 at 6:36 p.m.

    Good for you, Roy!

    Couldn't agree more. It's a corollary of Bob Hoffman's statement, "There is no bigger sucker than a marketer who's afraid he's missing the latest trend."

    Once, Sheldon, an Information Technology (IT) person offered to "loop me in." I asked if she would please "loop me out." Made me feel like Sam Goldwyn!

  10. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia, July 31, 2011 at 8:03 a.m.

    Good idea Chuck about the style-guide approach.

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