Monday, April 13, 2009

What is the worst acronym ever devised?

Acronyms are jargon that can confuse your audience, particularly if you do not define them the first time you use them. Acronyms should be avoided whenever possible. In a previous post on Drowning in Acronyms I lamented their wide use. Back when I was a small child acronyms still were uncommon enough that one of my mother’s friends could threaten her kids by saying that: “If you don’t behave, then I’m going to send you home COD (Cash On Delivery) on the L&N (Louisville and Nashville railroad).

Acronyms are a wonderful way of mystifying outsiders because there are no consistent rules for making them up. Sometimes articles or prepositions are included, like TMS which originally was The Metallurgical Society, and every month publishes JOM, which once was more logically called the Journal of Metals.

Some acronyms are contrived. For example, TWAIN means Technology Without An Interesting Name. CAPTCHA means a Completely Automated Public Turing (test to tell) Computers (and) Humans Apart and was even trademarked by my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University. An organization can chose its name without ever thinking about how its acronym can be pronounced.

My nomination for the worst acronym ever is for what used to be called the American Symphony Orchestra League. Once they even titled their newsletter ASOL (possibly an obscene synonym for anus). Imagine calling them up and having the phone cheerily answered, “Good morning, ASOL.” It would have been much better if they had named themselves the American League of Symphony Orchestras (ALSO). In 2007 they finally did change the name to the League of American Orchestras (LAO). They now claim that corresponds to a Chinese word for “old”, as in “wise elder.”

Do you have another nominee for the worst acronym ever (WAE)?


Michael Kroth said...


I love your blog - lots of great information. Thought you might find this post by Seth Godin interesting.


Richard I. Garber said...

Seth is fun to read. His April 15 post on presentations is great. He posts almost every day though. Lots of his stuff is excellent, and he has been able to pull off the rare feat of building an entire book out of blog posts.

Other days Seth completely misses the mark, like his post on April 11 lamenting that: “it’s harder to hire great people in a tough economy.” Wouldn’t it be easier?

In Gene Kranz’s book Failure is Not an Option he mentions how back in 1959 NASA’s Space Task Group benefited hugely from being able to pick up the entire group of ~25 engineers who had been the “elite Avro flight test and design team.” This happened right after the Canadian government canceled the program for the Avro Arrow interceptor aircraft. You can read about them here: