Why alphabet soup is so hard to swallow (reposted)

Do illiterate people get the full effect of alphabet soup?

When this tweet from @MyLanguageCloud arrived in my stream recently I immediately climbed up on my mental soup box. I was five minutes into my tirade when I realised the tweet probably was about food.

To me alphabet soup will always mean the sea of TLAs (three letter acronyms) that are thrown around liberally in today’s communication.

Now, I don’t care if you OMG or LOL in informal writing – after all I assume you are commu
nicating with someone who knows what these mean – but what ever you do leave them out of press releases, corporate websites and other texts meant to inform or enlighten.

Let me explain why.

1. Capitals are hard to read. Study after study shows this. There are references from as early as 1914 on the issue. Miles Tinker’s 1965 landmark text Legibility of Text discussed capitalisation in length. Today, it is widely accepted that on the web, mixed case type is mach easier and faster to read – 38 words a minute faster. In print material it takes up 35 per cent more space, so of course takes more time.

2. Leaving aside ubiquitous TLAs such as AIDS, the UN, BBC, ROM and SMS, that are so common the entity or idea is better know by its abbreviation, it takes a long time to translate them in your head. The mental energy that goes into remembering what the abbreviation stands for and then putting into the context of the sentence is too taxing for my 21st century demand for instant gratification.

Try this one on for size: However, officials in NATO and the WTO rarely refer to an NWO in proceedings relating to the GATT, and it can be said that the MVTO, the MFN clause, and SROs have little to do with an NWO.

Which brings me to my next point.

3. Since everything these days is turned into an acronym how are you supposed to know which one the author intends. Wikipedia gives five options for MFN!

I can only assume that people that use acronyms don’t want me to understand what they are saying; that they are talking to an elite few who can. Or they are just down right rude.

Either way, since TLAs stand out a mile, a quick scan is all it takes for me to decide to ignore whatever it was they wanted to say.

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