I hate acronyms! April 18, 2012 7:36 PM   Subscribe

Whither acronyms? Do we hate them? Should we allow them?

Personally, I hate acronyms I don't immediately recognize. It all came to a rolling boil when I read this AskMe post, "DVT into PE". Scanning the post and the three replies, I see "DVT" five times, "PE" six times, and nary a mention of the meaning of either. What could they mean? Diverticulitis? Digital video transfer? Physical education? Professional engineer? Premature ejaculation?

I see a need for a policy here. I suggest: Spell out what the acronym means, in parentheses, first time it's used, so that the uninformed become informed. This has the virtue of clarifying the post and the side effect of educating readers.

Obvious exemptions from the rule for standard MeFi acronyms like FPP, IANAL, etc. and well-known acronyms like GOP and CBS.
posted by exphysicist345 to Etiquette/Policy at 7:36 PM (149 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

IAWTP, TIA.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:37 PM on April 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Its like not having prices on a menu. If you have to ask you can't afford it.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 7:39 PM on April 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


Yeah, that particular question was not , I think, meant for anyone who didn't instantly know.
posted by tyllwin at 7:40 PM on April 18, 2012 [18 favorites]


A couple of thoughts immediately come to mind: people who are likely to know the answer will also likely understand the acronyms. Some people may do that intentionally to weed out people who may not really know what they are talking about. Some people may do it unintentionally, and weed out people who might be otherwise able to answer the question, but that's kind of a bummer for them.
posted by ambrosia at 7:41 PM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


If it had said "Deep Vein Thrombosis" and "Pulmonary Embolism" would it have made a difference to you in your ability to answer the question?
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:44 PM on April 18, 2012 [32 favorites]


This might illuminate most acronyms for you.
posted by cmoj at 7:45 PM on April 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yeah, this seems like a great way to weed out all those people who show up and say, "I don't anything about this, but…" In general though I agree with your sentiment.
posted by chunking express at 7:46 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was thinking about dropping a note to the OP (which anyone could have done) and suggesting that they might get better responses if they spelled stuff out and then I considered that they likely wouldn't. I knew what the OP was talking about once I read the more inside. But we might have avoided a MeTa.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:47 PM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just taking a look at the question, if you didn't know those acronyms for what they were, you have no business answering the question.
posted by Sternmeyer at 7:49 PM on April 18, 2012 [12 favorites]


I see a need for a policy here.

I don't think it's really a policy thing, certainly not in terms of any kind of mod-enforced policy. This is mostly a style issue and folks can make those choices as they see fit; if it hinders the answers their questions get, that's a bummer but it's pretty much for them to deal with as a thing to learn for future questions.

As a general suggestion, sure, I think it's a good idea to be clear about what your acronyms mean, particularly when there's a good reason to think that not doing so is going to get in the way of folks answering who would otherwise be likely to do so. But in a lot of cases, acronyms that are subject-specific aren't going to significantly get in the way since folks familiar with the subject will recognize the jargon, and folks who are feeling a little lost can do some quick googling to resolve the mystery in the likely vast majority of cases.

Not every question needs to be for every answerer; sometimes, if something sort of an "uh, what?" situation, the thing to do is to just shrug and let it be something you don't participate in.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:51 PM on April 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Well, spelling out the meaning would at least increase the future utility of the question by making it easier to find in searches.
posted by lalex at 7:51 PM on April 18, 2012 [38 favorites]


Good point, lalex.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:55 PM on April 18, 2012


When I went to medical school, we didn't use those acronyms; what are now referred to as "deep vein thrombosis" and "pulmonary embolism" were respectively known as "leg mushrooms" and "Lord Beddingford's pleurisy."

(Treatment for both involved bleeding either with or without leeches and, in the latter case, the application of a hot clothes-iron to abdomen.)
posted by infinitywaltz at 7:55 PM on April 18, 2012 [29 favorites]


Generally speaking I agree that it's a good idea. As far as policy goes we don't want to get into a "spell out your acronyms or we'll spell them out for you" situation, though we can always spell out the words in the tags pretty easily. I'll go do that now.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:58 PM on April 18, 2012


Spell out what the acronym means, in parentheses, first time it's used

how would any user possibly know that this is the first usage of that acronym on askme? What if it is an industry standard acronym but you just haven't heard it yet.

I agree that if you don't know (nor can easily find with a google search) the meaning of an acronym than you clearly don't have the requisite knowledge to answer the question, so the confusion is a non-issue.

Personally, I hate acronyms I don't immediately recognize.

I think the issue boils down to "You don't read widely enough to understand a vast range of potentially very specific questions".
posted by Brockles at 8:00 PM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Interesting for the day Matt brought his PVRBlog out of hibernation and somebody just asked me "what's a PVR"? (We call them DVRs now)
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:00 PM on April 18, 2012


This might illuminate most acronyms for you.

LMGTFY is pretty snarky, I acknowledge...But whenever I end up clicking one of their links, I watch the entire little animation and enjoy it thoroughly.
posted by meese at 8:01 PM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


It is incumbent upon those making posts and comments and asking and answering questions to do whatever they think is necessary to make their communication clear and to then live with the results of whatever clarity they deemed appropriate. So yes, it would be nice if people would explain less-than-common acronyms.
posted by The World Famous at 8:03 PM on April 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I had to look up FPP on Urban Dictionary, because...whatever.
So there you go.
No policy, just use the internet for what it was intended for.
posted by space_cookie at 8:06 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought the style convention was that one put the acronym in parenthesis on first usage?

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) into pulmonary embolism (PE).

Rather than:

DVT (Deep vein thrombosis) into PE (pulmonary embolism).

Or is this one of those things where there are two or more camps?
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:06 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


STFFU (not a typo)
posted by yerfatma at 8:11 PM on April 18, 2012


Brockles, I think people are talking about first usage in a post, not within all of MetaFilter.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:12 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


GOP (Government of Pakistan) and CBS (Community Business Scotland), of course.
posted by scruss at 8:13 PM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, as far as the answers go, I agree that the OP got responses from those who understood the issues, making the OP happy.

If it had said "Deep Vein Thrombosis" and "Pulmonary Embolism" would it have made a difference to you in your ability to answer the question?
No, but it would have made it possible for me to understand the question and replies.

how would any user possibly know that this is the first usage of that acronym on askme?
I meant first time the acronym is used in the post.

Parentheses around the acronym or the meaning; either make it clear.

My point is that it's impossible for the rest of us to read this thread and understand it. I mean, I regularly read many more threads than I respond to, and I enjoy that. It's educational! Isn't that that isn't a valid use of MeFi and AskMeFi?
posted by exphysicist345 at 8:13 PM on April 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


IQTMPOA

I've quietly taken my pants off again.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 8:17 PM on April 18, 2012 [17 favorites]


Isn't that that isn't a valid use of MeFi and AskMeFi?

Valid use of AskMeFi, yes. Purpose of AskMeFi, no. I had no idea what those acronyms meant. My reaction: "This question is not something I can answer." And the purpose of Ask is to get good, usable answers to your question. I don't see anything wrong with acronyms or initialisms (DVT is an initialism, not an acronym) or jargon in general; it instantly gets the attention of those who are much more likely equipped to answer well.
posted by tzikeh at 8:18 PM on April 18, 2012


I mean, I regularly read many more threads than I respond to, and I enjoy that. It's educational! Isn't that that isn't a valid use of MeFi and AskMeFi?

Totally valid. Secondary in the case of AskMe in particular to the actual core purpose of the site, though, and as far as that goes what works for getting folks' questions answered in a way that is useful to them has a lot more traction than what makes for ideal pleasure reading for bystanders.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:19 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


My own opinion in terms of the MetaTalk category title: etiquette: yes, preferable to indicate the meaning of the acronym; policy: no, unnecessary.
posted by trip and a half at 8:20 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought the style convention was that one put the acronym in parenthesis on first usage?

Yes, it is.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:28 PM on April 18, 2012


I'm kind of surprised at the framing of this Meta, the question itself is so fantastically inappropriate for AskMe that the acronyms are the least of its worries.

We are being asked for a prognosis on a fantastically complex disease with a patient history that only gets as detailed as 'young' for the purpose of determining whether or not potentially life saving intervention is necessary. This is not an OK use of AskMe. There is only one answer to that question and it is to insist that the person consult a physician in person.

I really wish that objectively bad medical questions like this one were more tightly regulated if only because they have a tendency to accumulate terrible advice that is not always countered. For example, this question still haunts me for all the weight of the well thought out, plausible, seemingly expert, and lethally wrong advice it quickly received.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:32 PM on April 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


PYHBYL & KYAG!
posted by jonmc at 8:33 PM on April 18, 2012


But we might have avoided a MeTa

I was just bemoaning the lack of MeTa rage time recently.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:40 PM on April 18, 2012


Still trying to figure out people's unmerited obsession with the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:42 PM on April 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Some people may do that intentionally to weed out people who may not really know what they are talking about.

Do people honestly think that if the question had said "deep vein thrombosis," it would have gotten lots of answers from people with no medical expertise making wild guesses? I find that kind of unlikely.

Even for people who specialize in the area and know the acronym, it helps to use spelled out words to establish the context, at least at the beginning before switching to acronyms. Just because you have a field of expertise doesn't mean you expect any given Metafilter post to be about that topic.
posted by John Cohen at 8:42 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


That question should have been deleted because it's asking for medical advice, and it's not even general, it's for a specific case. The answer is 'call a doctor'.
posted by empath at 8:45 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure why I understand why the people in this thread calling for that question's deletion didn't flag it before this MeTa was opened?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:54 PM on April 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Speaking only for myself, I didn't see it until the Meta.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:00 PM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I find myself more frequently confused by unfamiliar acronyms and 'stuff the kids say' these days, I admit, but I think that's mostly because I am becoming elderly at a worrying clip.

*slowly gets up to go pee again, makes the dad noise*
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:02 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


exphysicist345: " I suggest: Spell out what the acronym means, in parentheses, first time it's used."

I'm surprised no one has mention this yet, but there is a perfectly good html tag that can be used for acronyms where when the mouse hover overs it, the meaning is displayed. ILLT

< acronym title="meaning of obscure acronym" > aforementioned obscure acronym < /acronym >
posted by Deflagro at 9:04 PM on April 18, 2012 [13 favorites]


WTF?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:07 PM on April 18, 2012


Beat me to it, Deflagro.
posted by XMLicious at 9:08 PM on April 18, 2012


I'm not sure why I understand why the people in this thread calling for that question's deletion didn't flag it before this MeTa was opened?

I'm rarely sure why I understand why things are either?
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:09 PM on April 18, 2012


I'm surprised no one has mention this yet

For what it's worth, it's been mentioned in several past MeTas.

there is a perfectly good html tag that can be used for acronyms where when the mouse hover overs it, the meaning is displayed.

One problem with that is that the MeFi stylesheets do not give any visual indication that the tag has been used. I'm not sure if the mods are prepared to change that for the acronym or abbr tags.
posted by jedicus at 9:11 PM on April 18, 2012


I see a dotted line under ILLT above which I had always thought was the acronym style generally though I wasn't sure if it was in our stylesheet or something just built into HTML. Does it look different for other people?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:13 PM on April 18, 2012


You'll never stop people from using language in ways you don't approve of. It's silly to try.

Deciphering a new acronym is as easy as copy-pasting it into Google.

I llike acronyms. They're useful and the confusion can be fun. I like the moment of confusion and alarm I feel upon reading "what you need is a good course of CBT" in relationship AskMes.
posted by EatTheWeak at 9:13 PM on April 18, 2012 [12 favorites]


jessamyn: "I'm not sure why I understand why the people in this thread calling for that question's deletion didn't flag it before this MeTa was opened?"

For super clarity, with a Meta already open you guys would rather we not flag the thread right? My understanding is that the sole purpose of the flags is alerting you guys to things and if you are already alerted then the flags serve no purpose but remain an annoyance that needs clearing from the flag queue.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:18 PM on April 18, 2012


I think it's as consistent as anything across browsers, jessamyn, and a default styling.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:18 PM on April 18, 2012


DVT is a fairly widely used term - it's mentioned on almost every package insert for hbc and on the flight info/safety leaflet (1).
So if you are a woman taking hbc, or a man who was/is romantically involved with a woman who was/is taking hbc or if you are a person of any gender who happened to be on a flight, you should know what DVT is.

And then there are search engines for those who don't qualify.
posted by travelwithcats at 9:21 PM on April 18, 2012


I like the moment of confusion and alarm I feel upon reading "what you need is a good course of CBT" in relationship AskMes.

NGL, TLRN
posted by tzikeh at 9:21 PM on April 18, 2012


I see a dotted line under ILLT above which I had always thought was the acronym style generally though I wasn't sure if it was in our stylesheet or something just built into HTML. Does it look different for other people?

A dotted line is the default in Firefox but not Chrome or Safari. I don't know about IE. I guess then that the MeFi stylesheets don't change the default behavior, but if they did then it could be made consistent (e.g. dotted lines for everyone).
posted by jedicus at 9:23 PM on April 18, 2012


I stand corrected. I thought most modern browsers had a 'built-in' style in their parsers for the tag.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:25 PM on April 18, 2012


Well, there is another important purpose for any given AskMe beyond getting good answers from people who know: being interesting enough to a wide enough range of the general public to make enough money to keep the lights on around here-- and at that, the question as written fails dismally.
posted by jamjam at 9:25 PM on April 18, 2012


FTFY. Y'all are lucky I'm studying for boards.
posted by The White Hat at 9:25 PM on April 18, 2012


Razzle Bathbone writes "Its like not having prices on a menu. If you have to ask you can't afford it."

Unless one is making the argument that no one should ever buy anything without know the price that's a bullshit classist answer. It predicated on the belief that one should be able to figure out how much a meal will be by the brand of flatware and the thread count of the table clothes or something and if you can't you obviously don't have enough money to pick up on those clues.

Deflagro writes "I'm surprised no one has mention this yet, but there is a perfectly good html tag that can be used for acronyms where when the mouse hover overs it, the meaning is displayed. ILLT"

I didn't know acronym was a tag; I've always just used ABBR but sparingly because I've got the notion it doesn't work under IE though I see here that is only a limitation of 6 and below.

EatTheWeak writes "I like the moment of confusion and alarm I feel upon reading 'what you need is a good course of CBT' in relationship AskMes."

Me too; always takes me a moment to remember they probably mean Cognitive behavioral therapy and not that other thing. NSFW
posted by Mitheral at 9:28 PM on April 18, 2012


Whenever I see PE I think "Public Enemy," so naturally I found a question about whether something was likely to "develop into PE" was rather confusing for me.

I actually think even the common Metafilter acronyms like "OP" and "FPP" and "IANAL" and "GYOB" should be avoided. Sure, they're fine for anybody who's lurked on Metatalk for a few months; but that shouldn't be a barrier to entry to the conversation here. It'd be awesome if we could make Metafilter open to anybody who knows how to use a browser, since the extra perspectives we get that way are worth a lot, particularly in Ask.

That's just my own point of view, though. If people would just think about it a little bit and picture somebody who's never been to Metafilter reading their sentences before tossing in acronyms, I think that'd be awesome, but obviously that's not something anybody should try to force.
posted by koeselitz at 9:30 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


IWKYIYS
posted by Burhanistan at 9:44 PM on April 18, 2012


I thought it was a super-weird question to which the only answers possible were a) call the doctors and ask them, and b) get a panic button system, they're not actually that expensive, but the asker got those answers.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:47 PM on April 18, 2012


AcronymFinder
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:59 PM on April 18, 2012


I’ve just started ignoring all acronyms that I don’t recognize. It’s too much work to decipher them, and the poster has obviously stated that it wasn’t worth the effort to write it out.
posted by bongo_x at 10:06 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: the thing to do is to just shrug and let it be something you don't participate in.
posted by hippybear at 10:16 PM on April 18, 2012


I'm surprised no one has mention this yet, but there is a perfectly good html tag that can be used for acronyms where when the mouse hover overs it, the meaning is displayed.

But people use acronyms so they don't have to write out what they mean! Adding in html is even more work.
posted by crossoverman at 10:48 PM on April 18, 2012


cmoj: "This might illuminate most acronyms for you."

You could have just linked to the Acronym Finder.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:50 PM on April 18, 2012


Please don't refer to hyper text markup language as html unless you first explain the acronym. Thanks.
posted by The World Famous at 11:48 PM on April 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


What does TLRN mean? I did google it unsuccessfully.
posted by studioaudience at 12:11 AM on April 19, 2012


TISC! IHNIYCDT. Thanks, Deflagro.
posted by brina at 12:29 AM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think in an "ask" thread, mysterious acronyms might be a good way to weed out "unwanted amateur advice." To paraphrase the above, if you have to ask, we don't need your opinion. Granted, I'm fairly inexperienced with Ask, and not entirely sure of its charter, but it seems like "we don't really need inexperienced people attempting to answer our questions here" is a pretty common ideal, unless stated otherwise. (solicitations from "everyday people, etc.)

Professionally recognized acronyms in Ask threads ought to be allowed, maybe even embraced, at the possible risk of alienating good advice, from people who might not be down with the latest TLA's*. Keyword tagging is another possible source of identification.

If anything, it should be an instruction to the asker: how much do you want to limit/qualify the pool of answerers you get? A more inclusive description will certainly garner a more inclusive response base, at the risk of a lot of noise or useless input. But an overly exclusive choice of vernacular will probably lead to fewer, though more similarly-informed opinions.

I've had to look up TLA's on subjects that I felt qualified to answer, and it was no sweat. If one knows enough about a subject to feel justified in answering it, a quick Google search is perfectly warranted.

So again, it's up to the original asker: do you want to be more widely understood, or is it more important to be understood by "the right people"?

*Three Letter Acronyms
posted by ShutterBun at 1:34 AM on April 19, 2012


No. HTH HAND.
posted by Justinian at 2:06 AM on April 19, 2012


I think cmoj has it; that and read the tags, which are pretty clear. If you don't understand the acronym you aren't going to be of any use answering the question; and as pointed out above this is probably a good way get answers from somebody who at least has an inkling about the problem and not another armchair know all like myself.
posted by adamvasco at 2:34 AM on April 19, 2012


IWKYIYS

IWKYIYS? And whether I'm right or wrong, what does it say about me that it took me zero seconds to interpret it that way?
posted by solotoro at 3:48 AM on April 19, 2012


Adamvasco: If you don't understand the acronym you aren't going to be of any use answering the question
That's only true for a subset of highly technical questions, but vernacular/technical English is so enamored with acronyms that it's difficult (particularly for non-native speakers) to know beforehand that "My SWAF if full of GLOM, should I call the local TEPS?" is about a medical issue that can be understood only by a native US/UK doctor or some cute regional slang for "refrigerator" and "mold". One shouldn't have to use Google or Acronym Finder when browsing AskMe questions. Not a big deal (acronyms are fun), but like bongo-x above, I tend to ignore those questions these days.
posted by elgilito at 4:25 AM on April 19, 2012


OMGWTFBBQ
posted by Decani at 4:35 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought about asking for a abbr helper link next to B, I, link below the text area, to help people accomplish what Deflagro mentioned above.

Because, if people won't type out the full meaning behind an acronym (FMBAA) like that why would they type <abbr title="full meaning behind an acronym">FMBAA</abbr> ?
posted by terrapin at 4:38 AM on April 19, 2012


Me, I'm more annoyed by the 'whither -insert noun here-?' construction than I am by acronyms. And acronyms annoy me plenty.
posted by bardophile at 4:45 AM on April 19, 2012


We NEED more rules, people. We absolutely need RULES! MORE RULES!!!
posted by absalom at 4:52 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I walked past a woman talking on the phone today and overheard her say "And I was, like, OMG..." Not 'Oh My God'. Instead, she spelled out the letters: 'Oh em jee'. It was the most ridiculous thing I'd heard all day. Even more annoying than the unnecessary use of "like".
posted by kisch mokusch at 5:16 AM on April 19, 2012


Maybe someone could write a little article with hints and tips for making a good askme post, and you could link it off the askme post page. Granted, not everyone will click it, but even if it helps some, it'll probably be worth the effort.
posted by crunchland at 5:42 AM on April 19, 2012


This so reminds me of back when I worked in SAMC for the PPGA at HP in the 20th
posted by infini at 6:30 AM on April 19, 2012


adamvasco: "If you don't understand the acronym you aren't going to be of any use answering the question..."

Actually, it was pointed out above that this isn't true at all. There are many doctors who may even be circulatory specialists who don't know these acronyms. Heck, I actually know circulatory specialists who studied in Israel and probably aren't aware of what DVT means - and there's one doctor who commented above who apparently studied in the US who didn't know. Whereas I'll bet there are a lot of people who know nothing about medicine who have simply heard those acronyms before and know what they mean but still have no business answering the question.

This is completely aside from whether it's a good community principle to try to lock out "bad seeds" from answering your question by talking in code.
posted by koeselitz at 6:35 AM on April 19, 2012


My 2 cents...

AskMe's aren't just of benefit to the individual asker, they can be useful to other members and even non-members who find them via Google.

So it would be nice if they were comprehensible to other people who might have an interest, for example someone that suspects they might have a health condition, but doesn't know the right buzzwords yet.

Not that it needs to be any kind of a policy, but it's considerate to make things as comprehensible to a wide audience as is reasonable.
posted by philipy at 6:41 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I walked past a woman talking on the phone today and overheard her say "And I was, like, OMG..." Not 'Oh My God'. Instead, she spelled out the letters: 'Oh em jee'. It was the most ridiculous thing I'd heard all day.

People have been doing that for a while. I anxiously await the day I hear someone tell me that they went, "open parenthesis, superscript J, degree, undefined character, degree, close parenthesis, superscript J, semi-circle, inverted superscript T, en dash, inverted superscript T!" on some dude.
posted by Copronymus at 6:50 AM on April 19, 2012


For super clarity, with a Meta already open you guys would rather we not flag the thread right?

Usually, yeah. Occasionally there's a thread that is more of an open question that comes to MeTa or a really long one where there might be older comments that are so terrible we need to see them (maybe?) and so there's no real official proscription on flagging once a Meta is opened, but when we come here and see people being like "That question is so terrible it should have been deleted!" and then see only a flag or two on it, we're sort of like "Well, you sort of have to use the tools we give you and don't just come in morning-after quarterbacking" I didn't delete the question because, while it seemed a little off to me, it wasn't something where I felt it was just clearly Wrong For AskMe and the flags seemed to bear that feeling out. If it had had five times as many flags (which was the case with another question from yesterday that I was on the fence on) I might have made a different decision.

So I totally get that people can't be all places on the site at all times, but this MeTa isn't really a referendum on whether that post should be deleted and so showing up and being somewhat loud on that topic makes me wonder what is going on. We allow medical questions here and they often go the way Sidhedevil mentions [a chorus of "See a doctor"] which is the way things work here.

I think there's a balance to be struck between too much insider language such that it alienates people and not having any sort of lingua franca for the community here and acronyms are part of that so it's been interesting to see people's perspectives here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:54 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Generally speaking I agree that it's a good idea. As far as policy goes we don't want to get into a "spell out your acronyms or we'll spell them out for you" situation, though we can always spell out the words in the tags pretty easily. I'll go do that now.

So you're saying: GSIATIAGIAFAPGWDWTGIASOYAOWSTOFYSTWCASOTWINTPEILDTN?
posted by ThisIsNotMe at 6:54 AM on April 19, 2012


When my mother was in nursing school in the 1950's the cafeteria served a meal that the nurses called DVT. It stood for Dog Vomit on Toast.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:18 AM on April 19, 2012


I would think that spelling out acronyms would be great - not necessarily for potential answer providers (they have a higher likelihood of knowing commononly employed acronyms) - but instead for people searching previous questions for answers to their own questions. In other words, if you want answers to the same question, but do not have that level of sophistication or understanding (to use the shorthand), you may not know that your questions is already a thread in askmefi.
posted by anya32 at 7:21 AM on April 19, 2012


koeselitz, I think you missed my second bit about checking out the tags.
posted by adamvasco at 7:25 AM on April 19, 2012


IDDQD

IDKFA

IDBEHOLD L

IDSPISPOPD
posted by griphus at 7:26 AM on April 19, 2012


Instead, she spelled out the letters: 'Oh em jee'. It was the most ridiculous thing I'd heard all day.

Yes, this sharply stimulates my punching gland.
posted by elizardbits at 7:51 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


admittedly i have a highly overactive punching gland
posted by elizardbits at 7:52 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


kisch mokusch: “I walked past a woman talking on the phone today and overheard her say ‘And I was, like, OMG...’ Not ‘Oh My God’. Instead, she spelled out the letters: 'Oh em jee'. It was the most ridiculous thing I'd heard all day. Even more annoying than the unnecessary use of ‘like’.”

See, that's something I do all the time. Picked it up from my old roommates. I do that with "B.R.B." too. So I guess I am very annoying to a lot of people.
posted by koeselitz at 7:59 AM on April 19, 2012


i'm afraid i must sentence you to the slurry machine
posted by elizardbits at 8:03 AM on April 19, 2012


adamvasco: “koeselitz, I think you missed my second bit about checking out the tags.”

So, er – you were saying that, if people aren't good at reading tags (or don't know they're there) they won't be good at answering the question?

Sorry if I didn't understand what you meant. I guess I was responding more to the notion that's been expressed here a few times that using acronyms might effectively weed out bad answers. That seems more than a little misguided to me. But, yeah, maybe you were saying something completely different, in which case sorry for making it seem like I was calling you out.
posted by koeselitz at 8:04 AM on April 19, 2012


When I'm writing software specs at work that have some acronyms I always write the first instance like so:

Three Letter Acronym (TLA)


And then I use the acronym for the rest of the paper. Even though 99% of the people who will read the specs already know the acronyms, it's just professional courtesy to not assume that everyone knows everything you know all the time.

I also spell out common internet acronyms in my speech, mostly as a joke to my friends. I do find it mildly humorous when I hear people use things SNAFU or FUBAR in normal conversation, especially people who I know are quite averse to profanity. I wonder if they know that those acronyms stand for...
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:05 AM on April 19, 2012


*sob*
posted by cmyk at 8:12 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


TTFN, BEAR
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:25 AM on April 19, 2012


Bear?! Where?
posted by Think_Long at 8:33 AM on April 19, 2012


> My point is that it's impossible for the rest of us to read this thread and understand it.

Impossible unless, of course, you take the extra few seconds to google what you don't understand, something I thought was second nature for everyone by now.

In general, MeTa posts saying "I don't like this thing people do and I wish they would stop doing it" are completely pointless aside from allowing the poster and fellow gripers to get their gripes off their chest and feel better for a few moments.
posted by languagehat at 8:41 AM on April 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


/BFD4ME, FWIW
posted by y2karl at 8:43 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


NB4 LONGBOAT
posted by Edogy at 9:38 AM on April 19, 2012


Internet shorthand sacrifices readability for the sake of clubby insularity. Same reason I hate perl.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:29 AM on April 19, 2012


It's educational! Isn't that that isn't a valid use of MeFi and AskMeFi?

NO
posted by grog at 10:32 AM on April 19, 2012


Oops, sorry, that's "Nowadays, Obviously!"
posted by grog at 10:32 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've asked a MAME question on askme, and I answer HTPC questions there often too. Typically, knowledge of the acronyms are prerequisite to answering the questions.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:34 AM on April 19, 2012


Who you calling MAME?
posted by cjorgensen at 10:36 AM on April 19, 2012


Well, MAME is obviously "Missile And Munitions Evaluation". Unless, of course, it's "Mothers Against Medical Error". But I really doubt it's "Michigan Area Media Educators". :-)
posted by exphysicist345 at 10:43 AM on April 19, 2012


So I know a bunch of chefs and a bunch of people who work for (US) DARPA think tanks, and I am never exactly sure which CIA people are referring to.

Of course it would be hilarious if this CIA was run by this one. But perhaps more effective for national security if it were the other way around!
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:46 AM on April 19, 2012


Internet shorthand sacrifices readability for the sake of clubby insularity.

I imagine all the people who understood PE and DVT right away are all internet high-fiving and toasting each other right now, while all the rest of us schmucks are forced to go out and have drinks IRL .
posted by oneirodynia at 11:24 AM on April 19, 2012


I always just imagine MAME means the Angela Lansbury musical.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:00 PM on April 19, 2012


I was always taught that it was just poor structure to use an acronym before spelling it out. It's just not a well written question and would get a bad grade in class. Then again, most things written on the internet would get a bad grade in class these days. I don't think people care anymore.
posted by Vaike at 1:26 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I felt some frustration about exactly the same AskMe. I had no business trying to answer the question but I didn't know that until after I googled the acronyms.
posted by Carbolic at 1:31 PM on April 19, 2012


Then again, most things written on the internet would get a bad grade in class these days. I don't think people care anymore.

I don't think people have ever cared whether what they wrote on the Internet would get a bad grade in class. You should see some of the telegrams people wrote in the 19th century, too!

The myth of a vanished golden age where everyone wrote on all occasions like Jane Austen or Samuel Johnson is just that, a myth.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:43 PM on April 19, 2012


A note on acronyms; Until a few moments ago I always read FTW as "Fuck the World". In one instance it finally made so little sense to me that I searched for it and found "For the Win". According to the source I read, this is because I am old and the former was indeed the common meaning at one time, it has only changed in the last few years.

Even the most commonly used acronyms are not as clearly understood as you might think.
posted by bongo_x at 1:44 PM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I learnt something new today. I always thought it was Fuck the What, being used informally like slang
posted by infini at 1:49 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


LOL stands for Lots Of Love, as in: "I heard about your dad's passing. Sorry for your loss LOL"
posted by Edogy at 1:59 PM on April 19, 2012


NO
TESTING!
posted by iamkimiam at 2:06 PM on April 19, 2012


Nah, I was there when LOL was born.
posted by infini at 2:10 PM on April 19, 2012


Unfortunately this falls under the general heading of "people should write better." But hey, if everyone wrote better, I would be out of a job, so there's that!
posted by ErikaB at 2:13 PM on April 19, 2012


Yeah, I even write my texts out in full, commas and all, so I'm way out of the modern game here.
posted by Vaike at 3:50 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


A couple of my friend have told me that they thought that "omw" in the context of texting was "oh my word," so they were always like, "why is he so shocked that I'm at the bar?"
posted by cmoj at 4:11 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll remember all this for the self-contained underwater breathing apparatus question I plan on posting in the near future.
posted by jabberjaw at 4:15 PM on April 19, 2012


Whither acronyms?

WA?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:30 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


OMG, TIW.

But seriously, yay.

And yeah, explaining your acronyms is one of those best practices things that doesn't really need to be codified.
posted by SMPA at 8:26 PM on April 19, 2012


Internet shorthand sacrifices readability for the sake of clubby insularity. Same reason I hate perl.

Perl or Regex?
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:51 PM on April 19, 2012


As far as policy goes we don't want to get into a "spell out your acronyms or we'll spell them out for you" situation, though we can always spell out the words in the tags pretty easily. I'll go do that now.

(Skipping down, someone made have made the same point.)

I think that's a good idea if you *add* tags that are the expanded version, and a bad idea if you simply expand the tags. Many people may search for Deep Vein Thrombosis, but many will search for DVT.

I always read FTW as "Fuck the World". In one instance it finally made so little sense to me that I searched for it and found "For the Win".

It means both.

"I went into the office and my pager went off. FTW, some asshole had dropped the SQL server offline. Then one of the junior admins pulls a trick and gets the thing online fast, and I don't have to spend time explaining to the exec why we're down. And he tracked down who dropped the server. Admin FTW!."

Context is everything. Tale: In a class I was taking, there was a comment made by me that sometimes it's hard to be charming in the morning when you've pulled an all nighter. A fireman in the same class said 'Well, next time be more responsible when you have to work in the morning and don't stay out all night drinking." I LOL...err...laughed out loud, because our context was so different -- to an IT guy, esp. in operations, an all nighter is when you've been at work all night because of some major issue, and to him, an all nighter was when you tried to hit closing more than three bars in one night.

In a class about communications (a surprisingly helpful one, I might add) it was a revelation, even for the instructor. The exact same words, in the same tone, meant the exact opposite to me and the fireman.

Language FTW.
posted by eriko at 6:31 AM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I did hear of someone once who thought LOL meant "Lots of Love", and only discovered the meaning after messaging someone: "So sorry to hear about your loss. LOL."
posted by philipy at 8:42 AM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think that's a good idea if you *add* tags that are the expanded version, and a bad idea if you simply expand the tags.

The OP didn't include the DVT or PE tags originally. I added the longer words. I'll go back and add the acronyms also.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:46 AM on April 20, 2012


I did hear of someone once who thought LOL meant "Lots of Love", and only discovered the meaning after messaging someone: "So sorry to hear about your loss. LOL."

rtft!
posted by y2karl at 8:54 AM on April 20, 2012


lol
posted by infini at 9:10 AM on April 20, 2012


Do you mean: "rtft! LOL"?
posted by philipy at 9:11 AM on April 20, 2012


\o/
posted by infini at 9:15 AM on April 20, 2012


Talking of LOL, one thing I do find about Mefi is that the lack of emoticons and LOLs and such here does make it harder to tell the intended tone of a comment quite often.

Not so much with longer comments, where there's usually enough info to know the interpretation, but with very brief ones.
posted by philipy at 9:19 AM on April 20, 2012


|0|
posted by y2karl at 9:29 AM on April 20, 2012


That's like some odd combination of "LOL" and "Oi!".
posted by Burhanistan at 9:30 AM on April 20, 2012


I'd say it's the absolute value of zero.

Or possibly of absolutely zero value.

Could be useful to snarky mathematicians.
posted by philipy at 9:35 AM on April 20, 2012


I just can’t figure out why it would be so hard to type "for the win". It’s not a physically taxing phrase to type.
posted by bongo_x at 10:39 AM on April 20, 2012


That's easy for you to type. Time suck for others.
posted by y2karl at 12:06 PM on April 20, 2012


On topic: I can't help but read the acronym in this AskMe as Piece of Shit, which makes for an amusing thread.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:09 PM on April 21, 2012


There are a few of those that make for amusing reading besides the aforementioned FTW, LOL and CBT. I am also partial to FFA [as a confusing acronym, not a sport I prefer].
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:13 PM on April 21, 2012


As someone who went to high school in a small town in the west, for me, "FFA" will always and forever stand for "Future Farmers of America."
posted by koeselitz at 6:48 PM on April 21, 2012


From a post today: IVF, IUI, PGD, EMLA. I recognize none of them. Apparently it's a medical post, and those in the know are happily posting. I move on, not with a shrug, but with a monodigital gesture.
posted by exphysicist345 at 11:58 AM on April 22, 2012


Part of this is figuring out how common various acronyms are. That question is specifically asking for people who have been through IVF. This is an acronym you would know if you'd been through it. I have no idea why this inspires random bird-flipping. Not every question is for everyone. Read the tags if you're confused, or maybe try to figure things out through context.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:54 PM on April 22, 2012


Yeah, honestly, it is not the job of askers and answers to make sure you never have to wonder what something you're unfamiliar with is. This is an okay state of being. Google more if you want to learn more. Don't if you don't. No one deserves to be given shit in passing for failing to make a question maximally accessible to functionally disinterested passersby.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:14 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


MetaTalk: maximally accessible to functionally disinterested passersby
posted by Burhanistan at 2:37 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Part of this is figuring out how common various acronyms are.

Yeah, honestly, it is not the job of askers and answers to make sure you never have to wonder what something you're unfamiliar with is.

I don’t know that anyone should be given shit, that seems a bit much, but I find these to be odd attitudes, at least it makes the site less useful to others. Anyone searching for information In Vitro Fertilization would not find the post mentioned, and miss out on that information. I found this site because of answers on AskMeFi that I found in a search, and thought there were a lot of smart people here and wanted to know more.

There are a lot of posts on this site. A lot with acronyms. This is not the only site on the internet. I’ve just become tired of looking up every thing I read that doesn’t make sense. I’m not mad about it, and it’s not going to hurt anyone if I don’t read their post, but it makes the site less useful to others.

I find it odd that people get defensive and don’t want to bother spelling out the meaning of the acronym even once in a post, and yet there’s another discussion about how awful it is if links aren’t made into hypertext so no one has to copy and paste.
posted by bongo_x at 11:22 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I’ve just become tired of looking up every thing I read that doesn’t make sense

Welcome to being old.
posted by empath at 5:07 AM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I find it odd that people get defensive and don’t want to bother spelling out the meaning of the acronym even once in a post, and yet there’s another discussion about how awful it is if links aren’t made into hypertext so no one has to copy and paste.

You may be confusing two things. exphysicist345 basically implied that the question with acronyms made him angry even to look at it because he didn't understand what it was about. As someone whose job it is to try to keep people on this site decently happy I think it's worth pointing out that we added the spelled out words to the tags, we suggest that people spell out their acronyms, but outside of editing questions which we NEVER do (except in very specific cases that are spelled out in the FAQ) this is going to have to be a thing that people roll with occasionally. Or Google for what the terms mean. Or flag and move on. Someone who sees something they don't like on the site who just says "This makes me angry, people should act differently" are going to have a more difficult time here than if they deputize themselves to figure some of this stuff out. Same with some of the "family words" that get used here. Same with other people's typos.

It's worth pointing out, in my opinion, that people who use a bunch of acronyms may miss out on getting an answer to their question from someone who might be able to help but doesn't know the initialism, but in a question that is specifically "Have you ever had IVF" that's not super likely.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:18 AM on April 23, 2012


I don’t know that anyone should be given shit...

...made him angry even to look at...


If you find yourself getting angry over this sort of thing, probably a good idea to step back, take a deep breath and cool down. Maybe even ask yourself what it says about you that such a thing would get you so angry.

Quite likely what would make you angry is that you take the behavior as if it meant the person doing it has no regard for your needs, as if they've knowingly slighted you and treated you with contempt. Whereas the reality is it's far more likely they had no idea that you had any such needs.

On the other hand, pointing out in a friendly way: "Hey, people often do X, and it would help me if they did Y, because of Z" is probably a good idea.

And it's probably an excellent idea if as a person who does X, when you see people saying how it would help them if you did Y, you said to yourself: "Hey, I didn't realize people would prefer Y, I didn't even know about Z. I'll try to do Y in future."

As they say: Everybody needs a hug.

Maybe there should be an acronym for that.
posted by philipy at 9:43 AM on April 23, 2012


We have a t-shirt for that.
posted by infini at 11:48 AM on April 23, 2012


Thanks, philipy, I think you've nailed it. Rather than anger specifically at acronyms, I think what I was feeling was about the inferred attitude, which I took to be, "We don't care if you can understand our acronyms or not" or possibly "We hereby establish an exclusive cadre who are privy to this discussion" or even "We are superior to others on this website." I took it as a disrespectful attitude. And yes, surely it is more easily explained, as the aphorism says, by ignorance or stupidity than by malice.

OTOH, the practice of using acronyms without explanation doesn't promote community here, it does just the opposite, being a barrier (however low) to understanding and participating. And I definitely like the idea of this site being a community.
posted by exphysicist345 at 5:31 PM on April 27, 2012


The point of askme is to get questions answered. If you don't know what an Ivf is, you aren't going to be able to answer a question about them.
posted by empath at 5:36 PM on April 27, 2012


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