Thursday, February 17, 2011

Acronym Soup

This confession is really awful for an academic administrator, but it’s true. My brain has run out of space for new acronyms.

Acronym proliferation is out of control. It comes from many sources.

The most obvious is grant-funded programs. For whatever reason, a few decades ago someone decided that every grant-funded program needed a clever, upbeat acronym. As with many awful ideas, it was probably harmless enough at first. But the good ones went fast, and now each new iteration of a program needs its own spiffy new term.

Soon the state- and federally-funded programs followed. Now even local initiatives have to have acronyms.

The same letters tend to pop up in acronyms a lot. You don’t see many x’s, z’s, or f’s.. In the world of electronics, for whatever reason, every acronym has to have the letters c, e, and t. STEM has become an acronym without portfolio, taking on a life of its own as a generic term for science and math. One of my prouder moments as an administrator came last year when I noticed that a particular program was in danger of adopting an acronym that, when pronounced, suggested an unusual sex act. The components of the name were quickly and discreetly rearranged.

Some parts of the college tend to be more acronym-happy than others. Nursing, Teacher Ed, Adult Basic Ed, and Workforce Development tend to be the most prolific generators. The first two are heavily licensed and credentialed, which means you have agencies with acronyms generating programs with acronyms. The latter two are grant-heavy, which means there’s just no escaping it.

Over time, it’s hard to keep all the clever little names straight. They start to blend together. In the right context, too, you’ll sometimes hear three or four of them in the same sentence. Last week I endured one that was structured as follows: “The abab folks are collaborating with the cdcd project over at efef, in hopes of procuring a ghgh grant from ijij.” That’s just a crime against language.

Wise and worldly readers, what’s the worst acronym offense you’ve seen lately?