Last month I described how technological change has led to many entries being revised in Macmillan Dictionary’s recent update. A particular example of how this change manifests is through acronyms and initialisms.
It’s worth clarifying the difference between these. Acronyms are new words formed from the initial letters (or parts) of a series of words, such as RAM from random access memory, and radar from radio detecting and ranging. Initialisms are a similar sort of abbreviation but are pronounced by saying each letter separately, for example BBC, VHS, and the FYI of this post’s title. The distinction, BTW, is not always strictly observed – initialisms are often loosely called acronyms. This imprecision is rarely problematic, but it’s good to know the difference. HTH.
So how are acronyms and initialisms changing? Take VHS (video home system). I grew up with this format for watching films and TV shows, but even its successor, the DVD, now seems bound for obsolescence. The old entry for VHS called it “a system for recording television programmes at home”; Macmillan Dictionary’s update changed this to “a system used in the past for recording television programmes at home”. Don’t tell me dictionaries can’t induce nostalgia.
Of course, there are new acronyms and initialisms in the dictionary too. A few years ago hardly anyone had heard of MOOC (massive open online course), but it has since become what Kerry Maxwell described as a hot new trend in digital pedagogy. With Google now getting in on the act by launching the MOOC.org online learning platform, the term is going inexorably mainstream. Speaking of whom, the graph in Google Trends shows the suddenness of this acronym’s ascent.
Some new entries, such as API, BYOD, and QR code, explicitly reflect the significant role of technology in altering the lexical and cultural landscape. With the spread of wi-fi, the online–offline divide has become increasingly blurred, so it’s no surprise that some internet-born abbreviations have become more word-like as they’ve spread beyond jargon and slang. ROFL all you like, but people have begun to rofle.
Other newcomers to the dictionary, such as SMIDSY and OH, evoke more traditional concerns IRL, but are popular in social media because many of these technologies (and electronic discourse generally) motivate communicative efficiency. OH is also popular as an abbreviation of “overheard”, for example on Twitter, but either way it’s a useful space-saver. And if you’re lucky, your other-half OH is also your BFF. Because YOLO.Email this Post