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With all due respect: Blame the Romans

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Cite as: April 2014 88 (04) LIJ, p.83

An online news site ran a headline recently that contained the words “Demystifying the TPP, life after SBY”. Your correspondent was tempted to shout out “CPR”, not as a plea for resuscitation but an exclamation from a Completely Puzzled Reader. The article revealed TPP is the Trans-Pacific Partnership and SBY is an acronym for Indonesia’s president.

Acronyms have become so commonplace that some linguistic experts claim that their use in texting, or should that be SMS? and in social media like Twitter and Facebook is destroying the English language. They have coined the horrible words textish and netspeak, a term for internet slang remarkably similar to newspeak, the fictional language invented by George Orwell in the novel 1984.

But before we worry about the totalitarian tanks of linguistic abomination (or TTOLA) rumbling down Bourke Street, it is worth noting that anyone who thinks they can turn back the acronym tide has King Canute as a BB (best buddy).

Worldwide there were apparently 11 trillion text messages sent in 2011 The Oxford English Dictionary is now on board, including a whole list of texting terms in its publications. And good luck in trying to persuade teenagers to stop LOL-ing, OMG-ing and the rest.

As an aside my theory on the reasons that acronyms have been embraced so enthusiastically by teenagers is that they couldn’t find a way to translate grunts into a written language.

The legal world is full of abbreviations and acronyms and they can be extremely confusing and annoying, although writing that statement in the LIV publication, the LIJ, might strike some as hypocritical. If you told a lawyer friend you found the information on a case in the ALR would that be the Adelaide Law Review, Australian Law Reports or American Law Reports, or even the Argus Law Reports?

The corporate and political worlds are also full of acronyms and they can lead to embarrassing social interactions. If you are at a party and a stranger tells you they have just returned from APEC you have to try and work out if they attended a conference of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation or the Asia Pacific Endodontic Confederation. You then panic as you wonder if you should talk politics or your recent root canal treatment.

It’s easy to blame teenagers for the virus-like spread of acronyms. But better to blame the Romans. Your correspondent remembers watching Hollywood sword and sandal epics and trying to work out in my own juvenile way the meaning of the letters “SPQR” on a Roman legion’s banner. I later learned it stood for “Senatus Populusque Romanus”, a very early use of an acronym.

On that historical basis, that there is NNUTS (Nothing New Under the Sun), it is asserted that it was not a teenage girl but Admiral Lord Fisher who first used the acronym OMG (oh! my God!), in a dispatch to Winston Churchill in 1917. It’s not recorded if Churchill replied he was LOL (laughing out loud).

So FYI (for your information) it is IMHO (in my humble opinion) impossible to stop the spread of acronyms. We just have to CIS (cop it sweet).

Do you ever come across amusing incidents related to the law? Of course you do. Then why not contribute to WADR? By email to, by fax on 9607 9451 or by mail C/- LIJ, 470 Bourke Street, Melbourne 3000.


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