English (the language, that is)MiscellaneousThe Decline of Humanity

It’s the Number 1 Fact of Life

A year or two ago, Spenser and I had to take a trip to the Emergency Room at the hospital where I worked. There was a sign at the desk which indicated, “ED,” with an arrow pointing in the appropriate direction. Spenser looked at the sign and said in a quietly (sarcastic) tone, “Oh, that’s nice….”

I wasn’t sure to what he was referring. This particular hospital had begun to refer to the Emergency Room as the “Emergency Department.” I was not a fan of the new trend, and felt it was rather ridiculous. I was imagining heated boardroom discussions about the fact that it was simply appalling to call such a hallowed place a “room,” when it was so much MORE than that. I don’t know what prompted the whole thing (I’m sure it’s happened all over the world), but I thought it was silly.

Anyway, I mentioned to Spenser, “Oh, they call it the Emergency DEPARTMENT now, instead of the ER.” He replied, “Ohhh.”

The thing is, Spenser associated “E.D.” with “Erectile Dysfunction.” After that, every time someone referenced the “E.D.” in a conversation (the department, not the dysfunction), I had to bite my tongue not to say, “you know, people might think you’re talking about penises!”

Now, I could go into an entire dissertation on my annoyance with the number of acronyms used by that employer (not just them, I know). I remember having to occasionally take the minutes during meetings, and having no idea of what was being referenced, particularly if the person was speaking over the telephone intercom. Just think of how something like “PDF” might sound over the phone…. Is it BTS? PBS? PCF? Why are we talking about polycystic fibrosis?

It would just be so much clearer to say the actual words. It’s shocking, but true. Every time someone uses an acronym like “POA” or “IBS” I immediately go to the “wrong” definition in my head. I’m not sure if this whole thing started because people were being lazy or trying to sound hip, or maybe I need to have my hearing checked, but it’s really a bit sad. Or perhaps the real issue is that I’m just a dirty thinker.

If the acronym situation wasn’t woeful enough, it seems that sometimes we’re even too lazy to actually say the individual letters of the acronym. Now we create pretend words which may or may not be actual words with other (original) meanings. I remember someone at work using the word “sniff” in a conversation, and it was some time before I realized that s/he meant “skilled nursing facility.” Really? Sniff? We can’t even be bothered to say three letters now?

Anyway, the reason I’m bringing this all up is because tomorrow is one of my “favorite” holidays, Valentine’s Day. Pretty much every year, I have occasion to remember when I made a particularly (I thought) lovely card for my parents, and within or upon it I wrote, “Happy VD!!”

I remember my mother was at first surprised and somewhat laughing about it (but trying not to), and my father was definitely flummoxed. I think I was even reprimanded a little, and I may have even cried or started a quivering lip. I had no idea as to what I had done wrong; I thought I had been particularly clever and modern to use the abbreviation. When he saw my confusion, my father tried to explain that “VD” was a “social disease,” which did nothing whatsoever to clear my mind as to the meaning behind my massive faux pas. I just knew I had better not ever say “Happy VD” to anyone.

What’s interesting is that, around that time, there was an ad campaign regarding said “social disease” (if you started humming the tune when you saw the name of this post, you are getting old, my friend), and I vaguely remember the TV (“television”) channel changing quickly or being told to leave the room whenever the commercial reared its naughty head. So, in all fairness, my 7-or 8-year-old self was not exposed (heh) to such worldly things, even though the Ad Council thought I should know about it. Since such things were forbidden viewing fodder at the time, I only remember the more “modern” commercial, but looking back, all of them are pretty funny. (Disclaimer: VD is not funny) (nor is Erectile Dysfunction) (or polycystic fibrosis).

So, what this all comes down to is this: acronyms get you into trouble.

When I see and hear all of the shortcuts we take with the English language, I often consider that if someone who died in 1942 came back to life in the present day, s/he would need an interpreter.

In my early days of learning “English,” I remember being told that, whilst writing, one should imagine that an alien from another world was reading one’s paper, and one should write so that everyone (including aliens, who, if we’re honest, probably don’t know English, anyway) would understand the content. While it has certainly stuck with me, it is not a priority with probably 98.47% of the rest of the world. I know I can be an old fuddy-duddy (there’s a modern expression), and I know that our language evolves as we evolve, but I am starting to feel like an alien myself. I sometimes have to Google (sigh) things when I’m reading job openings (in fields where I should know what is being referenced) or certain news articles.

Anyway, I can’t be the only person left who feels this way. Textspeak (in TEXTING) is a sad necessity for all of us, but we really should try to curb it when communicating orally with others from our species. Take an extra half of a millisecond to say three words. It really won’t hurt, I promise. And the biggest take-away of all: Your words will never be mistook for a social disease or dysfunction.

And you won’t get in trouble with your parents.

Happy VD, all!

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