Default Acronym Expansions

Based on the kind of stuff we are interested in, each of us has our own “default expansions” for acronyms.

Now, there are only 26 letters in the English alphabet (and some are much more common than others), and a good acronym is 2-4 letters long, so there are so many acronyms going around. So it is inevitable that there is acronym overloading, with the same acronym meaning different things in different contexts.

In this context, whenever we see an acronym, we have a default expansion of it based on our interests and domains and exposures. And this can lead to some hilarious interpretations at times.

I read this newsletter called “Margins“. I don’t agree with everything they write, but they write about interesting stuff so I read them. Yesterday’s edition had this gem:

Clearly, the 2008 Financial Crisis and the blowup of CDOs and MBSs left a bad taste in people’s mouths over the chopping up and passing off of debt (note: I now get uncomfortable every time I write “MBS” and “chopped up” in a sentence).

This joke works only because of acronym overloading. MBS also refers to Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman, and he “allegedly” got dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who worked for the Washington Post, literally chopped up (for those of you for whom Mohammed Bin Salman is the default MBS, it can also refer to Mortgage Backed Securities).

Long ago, I worked for a company that had launched a product acronymised as “LFM”. I could never understand what this product does because my “default expansion” of LFM is Left Arm Fast Medium.

Acronym confusion can also happen when you’re deeply familiar with one domain with its own set of jargons and acronyms, and then are suddenly exposed to another domain that has its own set of jargons and acronyms. It takes a long time to “unlearn” your old acronyms and then learn the new ones.

Then again, given the limited number of acronyms available, sooner or later we better learn to learn and unlearn new meanings of acronyms.

Maybe one day Kohlberg Kravis Roberts will buy Kolkata Knight Riders
I still don’t understand how the IPL allowed Delhi Capitals since there used to exist a team called Deccan Chargers in the same league
Does your All India Rank get announced on All India Radio?

Giant Squid is Good Stuff.


2 thoughts on “Default Acronym Expansions”

  1. This is good stuff. I was recently suggesting to a colleague to remove the acronyms in her note, or at least expand all of them in the footer. One reason was the usual—some people may be unfamiliar with the acronym. The other reason was what you pointed out—our primary expansion of an acronym changes over time as our context changes. Often we ourselves struggle to remember all the acronyms we’d used a long while ago.
    I had plenty of examples of the first, but couldn’t come up for one for the second. (Sadly, your MBS example doesn’t appear appropriate enough to share with her.)

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