We’re a newspaper and we spell it out


By Scooter MacMillan, Editor

I’m sitting in a meeting or hearing a talk about something I’m really invested in. Without noticing I’ve moved forward, an unconscious attempt to lean in, to hear better. I’m literally on the edge of my seat.

The outside world has melted away. I’m neither hot nor cold, hungry nor full, comfortable nor uncomfortable. I am completely captivated by the speaker.

I’m neither anxious nor relaxed. I’m just listening when the speaker inevitably says something like “DEI.”

Or “CSWD” or “CVSD” or “VLCT” or any of the multitude of alphabetical gobbledygook we use instead of the actual names of things.

Newspapers don’t use initialisms, except for FBI.

The Charlotte News, Charlotte, VermontI have an undiagnosed learning disability, or mental processing difference, which makes it hard for me to recognize or remember initializations, so most of the time, when someone uses an initialization as an abbreviation for something’s name, there are long moments while I’m unraveled from the thread of the conversation, struggling to figure out what the letters of the abbreviation stand for so I can get my thoughts back into the conversation.

At least, newspapers aren’t supposed to use initialisms, according to the Associated Press Stylebook, the bible of such newspaper grammatical and style issues. “No acronyms except FBI” is one of the first things you hear in your first journalism class, and so often in newsrooms it’s a cliché.

And FBI isn’t an acronym, it’s an initialism. An acronym is when the first letters of the name of something become a word, like laser. The word “laser” comes from the first letters of “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.”

There’s another exception to the rule because newspapers certainly do use the acronym laser. So, let’s say newspapers don’t use initialisms, except for FBI and laser. We certainly wouldn’t refer to a light-amplification-by-stimulated-emission-of-radiation pointer. That wouldn’t be clear.

Newspapers look for opportunities to seek clarity. FBI is so ubiquitous that some people might not know what organization you were talking about if you called it the Federal Bureau of Investigation. FBI is probably clearer.

In so many cases the name is so much clearer about what an organization, concept or thing is. CSA has become almost as ubiquitous as FBI, but aren’t the words “community-supported agriculture” so much more powerful than the letters “CSA”?

Coming from the South, I can attest that when a significant percentage of Southerners hear “CSA,” the letters initially bring to mind: “Confederate States of America.” I am sure, although I can’t prove it, that there are even people in Vermont who associate the letters “CSA” with this insurrection.

So, wouldn’t you want the first thought, even the second or third thought, when your organization is mentioned, to be of community-supported agriculture and not the Confederate States of America?

When you speak out for diversity, equity and inclusion, isn’t that so much clearer and powerful than speaking out for DEI? Those three distinct, yet so inextricably connected, values are each worthy of the breath and energy it takes to say or type them.

And, at least in this newspaper, you won’t see SB, PC, not even DRB. “Development review board” is so much clearer and specific than “DRB” or “ZBA” for the defunct “zoning board of adjustment” (which, if there were any justice in the study of nomenclature, would be rechristened as the “DZBA.”)

A planning commission that plans. Imagine the concept. Certainly, we don’t want to hide behind “PC” and prefer the clarity and transparency of “planning commission,” right? Clearly, it’s not OK for a portion of us to have to spend several seconds or more considering “politically correct,” “personal computer” or “petty cash,” before “planning commission” finally dawns upon us, is it?

There are so many initializations used at Champlain Valley School District Board meetings that every meeting’s agenda comes with two extra pages, a glossary that explains the alphabet soup that is the educational fraternity’s secret lexicon.

For a district that prides itself on being inclusive, this glossary doesn’t quite do the trick of including those of us who have to scramble through this glossary. While we have to search so many times at every meeting for the meaning of another enigmatic jumble of letters, we don’t know what’s being said. And once we’ve found the meaning, it takes an excruciatingly long time to get your thoughts back on track with what’s being said.

I’m not alone in suffering mental speed bumps when initializations are used. Surveys repeatedly show that people really don’t like it when writers use initializations. Readers would like to read the words.

So, we spell it out.





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