Publish at: 8 July 2014

There are set expressions for announcing the fact that you're going to do this like: "putting it briefly -- cutting a long story short -- putting it in a nutshell -- without beating about the bush" and many more but I'll "keep it short!" There are of course other ways as well to reduce the number of words and one way is to use ACRONYMS or ABBREVIATIONS.

Now if I were to say to you that an operation had to be done by "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation", you might well think that I was trying to impress you with my use of words or that I had "swallowed the dictionary", as the saying goes. But if you take the first letter of five of those words and put them together as a word, you end up with the word "LASER". It is in fact a good example of an acronym because the abbreviation or the first letters can be combined to make a word that can be pronounced as such.

In the same vein we have "OXFAM" (Oxford Committee for Famine Relief), "NATO" (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), "UNESCO" (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization), "AMSTRAD" (Alan Michael Sugar Trading) and "UFO" (Unidentified Flying Object) -- one of those mysterious objects that people imagine are spaceships from outside our world, sometimes called "flying saucers". Then there is the extra money we all hate paying on top of goods and services called "VAT" (Value Added Tax).

Incidentally "vat" is a word and has been long before the creation of the tax meaning a large container for holding liquids such as wine from which some would like to take a sip before having to pay the acronym version. Acronyms are being created all the time. Take "WYSIWYG", which means what you see is what you get and is a reference to computing.

What you see on the computer screen is what you will see on the printout. And finally in this selection what do you think it means if someone describes your attitude as "NIMBY"? It literally means Not In My Backyard and describes someone who is quite happy for a road to be built, a prison to be built or a new housing estate to be put up as long as it's nowhere near where they live -- not in their backyard.

Abbreviations are simply the first letters of a group of words often used in print to save space but these cannot be spoken as words but have to be pronounced as separate letters. In an advertisement you may well be asked to enclose an "s.a.e." if you want to be sent further information. You are being asked to send a "stamped addressed envelope". If you are ordering something through the post there is usually an additional charge for "p and p" or "postage and package". You see an advertisement for a car you want to buy.

After the price you may find the letters "o.n.o". This means the seller is prepared to accept a slightly lower price "or near offer". When you come to the end of a page of script where there is more information on the other side you will see the letters "p.t.o.", in other words you are being told "please turn over". In our current society where we are more aware of how we should treat our fellow citizens, there is an expression describing what is the right way to behave, shortened to "p.c." or what is "politically correct".

Foreign languages obviously play their part in the language. After all where would English be without all the other languages from which it has borrowed? At the end of a letter when we want to add something we write "p.s.", which comes from Latin "post scriptum". This year is described as 2004 "A.D." from the Latin "anno domini" (year of the Lord).

Some people frequently say "d.v." when they are referring to a future event thereby hoping it will take place since it stands for "deo volente" or "God willing". And when you are about to describe or explain something in addition to what you have just said, you use the letters "i.e. -- id est" or that is.

Now for a bit of nostalgia and perhaps it's relevant as this is after all a newsletter. When I was a young soldier I was in charge of the post in one camp and would see written on the back of letters from girl friends to my fellow soldiers "S.W.A.L.K. -- sealed with a loving kiss".



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