Dealing with Acronyms and Abbreviations

My books are packed with acronyms and abbreviations, and readers complain about them all the time. An acronym is a series of letters that shorten a term and you can say. For example, Language INtegrated Query (LINQ) is pronounced “link” so it counts as an acronym. An abbreviation is a shortened version of a term or phrase. For example, MicroSoft Developer Network (MSDN) is an abbreviation because you can’t say the term and must instead say each letter individually. Whether the term is an acronym or an abbreviation, I usually try to define it once every chapter. However, some truly common terms are only defined once in a book and if a term is considered universally known outside computer circles, such as CPU (for Central Processing Unit), I don’t define it at all.

Unfortunately, making an assumption can be a dangerous thing. I try to err on the side of defining terms too often so that readers can gain maximum benefit from my books with the least amount of effort. However, even making my best efforts, there are times when you might find an acronym or abbreviation that you simply don’t understand in one of my books. When this happens, you can always contact me at and I’ll be happy to define it for you. My goal is to ensure you have a great reading experience and that you discover everything possible about the topic at hand.

Some people prefer to do things for themselves. Hands on learning produces the best results for them and I do understand the need to address the learning methods each person uses with greatest ease. In this case, you have other options for finding the term you need defined. These sites will provide you with common terms used in my books (depending on the book, you may need to use more than one site):

Of course, there are many other fine online references, but these references should provide what you need in most cases. The worst case scenario would be to use the acronym or abbreviation without really knowing what it means. I encounter this problem all too often. Readers will contact me with a question that I truly can’t understand because of a misused term. Knowing what terms mean is an essential part of clear communication. Given that most of my communication is through e-mail, clear communication saves time and effort for everyone involved.

The question I get asked relatively often about acronyms and abbreviations is why the computer community uses them at all. After all, they’re confusing. Typing the full term every time you wanted to use it would be cumbersome at the least and error prone as well. Using a shorter term means concise communication. Using the terms correctly means precise communication. Every trade has its jargon and those jargon terms were created in order to ensure that two people communicating about a topic could do so in the most precise manner possible. I’ve discussed the need for jargon in the past in posts such as Power Words.


I Don’t Speak “Texting”

I really do try my best to decipher reader e-mail and, generally, I do a good job. However, lately I have received a number of messages written as if the person were texting me. Unfortunately, I don’t speak texting, so I couldn’t answer the e-mail without clarification. In at least one case, the person in question became agitated. I truly do want to answer your questions, but first, I must understand the question.

The incidents have led me to think through some of the assumptions I have made about language in general and the grammar we use to communicate with each other. Language changes constantly. Sometimes it changes more quickly and sometimes it settles down to percolate for a while. However, as with any living thing, language changes. I’m sure that texting (as it applies to cellphone usage) will contribute to some massive changes in our language.

It wasn’t surprising to learn that there are actually terms for some of these changes. For example, the combination of letters and numbers used to form a word is called wumbers and someone has actually written a book entitled, “Wumbers” about it. That this is a children’s book tells me that youngsters today are steeped in the language of texting long before they own a cellphone. An example of a wumber is “writ10” (pronounced, “written”). You might learn about a 2can (toucan) using wumbers, and always be sure to say 10Q (thank you) when someone does something nice for you. I’m surprised at the number of ways in which wumbers are used today.

On top of the wumbers, the texting devotee also has to learn a host of acronyms and abbreviations. I’m sure that some of these terms are standardized. You can find a sampling of them on Netlingo. There is nothing new about acronyms and abbreviations. In fact, I have used some, such as IAE (In Any Event), for years. However, the sheer weight of new acronyms and abbreviations that have become popular due to texting makes it akin to learning an entirely new language.

At issue is when people start using wumbers, acronyms, or abbreviations, mixed with slang, that other people can’t figure out, despite investing time and effort to do so. The creation of a new language is a painful process—at least, it appears that way from my perspective. There will come a point where a certain level of standardization will occur and texting will become a language onto itself. I’m not sure whether there is an actual name for the language yet or not, but I’m sure some linguist will coin a term for it.

Of course, the problem now is to determine whether texting has the staying power to become a bonafide language. There have been many language failures over the years. Some languages become extinct because the group that spoke them no longer exits; others become extinct because the language was impractical. In order to survive, a language must have enough standardization that people can understand it, it has to meet needs that existing languages don’t, and it also has to have enough flexibility to grow to meet new needs for expressing ideas and concepts.

It’s unlikely that I’ll learn texting anytime soon—partly because I don’t even own a cellphone (the preferred method of practice). When communicating with me, please try to use English or at least a language that I can translate with Google Translate. Let me know your thoughts on the texting language at