Geekspeak and TLA’s

I’ve been planning for a while to write a post about the importance of good naming practices in programming, as I was reminded when I came across an article about “Geekspeak” earlier this evening. However, my son had asked me to use the web to examine some ways to get additional funding, and I went about that task.

The search went well, so I put together a note to him that began as follows:

I took a look at the SallieMae (SM) web site. …

First, go to the part of SM that is about graduate loans:

The following two that are listed near the bottom of the page:

Signature Student Loan (SSL) …

Tuition Answer Loan (TAL) …

I printed out a copy of the note for my wife to review before sending it on to my son. She went over it, found a few typos and such — she always does, as she is as good at catching mistakes as I am in making them. As she started to fix them, she asked, “Why use SSL? It only occurs a couple of times.”

And that’s when I realized that a lifetime of programming had resulted in my coming down with a major case of acronym-itis. IWT (I was toast.)

Though suffering a near-terminal case of acronym-itis I do still have some memory left, and I can still recall a meeting in IBM’s Alamadem Research Center back in the late ’80s when IBM lived in a world of its own. There was a talk that was at its core just a list of abbreviations with a few filler words thrown in from time to times: SNA, SDW (Super Duper Widget), ONT (Our New Technology), HAW (Hawthorne), YKT (Yorktown), and so forth.

Then a true IBMer (Pat Goldberg – may her memory be a blessing) raised her hand and said, “Can we please dispense with all the TLA’s?” And I realized that TLA was itself an acronym – Three Letter Acronym. I was employed by the global master of acronym-itis. I still am.

The article about GeekSpeak is Geekspeak still baffles web users. It says in part:

Britons are increasingly tech-savvy but are still bamboozled by tech jargon.

According to research from Nielsen/NetRatings, people are buying cutting-edge technology but often don’t understand the terms that describe what their device actually does.

So while 40% of online Britons receive news feeds, 67% did not know that the official term for this service was Really Simple Syndication.

Terms such as podcasting and wikis are still meaningless to many.

Millions of people keep in touch via instant messaging but some 57% of online Brits said they did not know that the acronym for it was IM.

“The technology industry is perhaps the most guilty of all industries when it comes to love of acronyms,” said Mr Burmaster.

“There is a certain level of knowledge snobbery in so far as if you talk in acronyms you sound like you really know what you are talking about and if others don’t understand then they are seen in some way as inferior,” he said.

Terms such as blogging and podcasting have achieved a high enough level of exposure to have made it into dictionaries but there are still plenty of people who don’t understand the terms.

35% of online Brits had heard the term podcasting but didn’t know what it meant and a quarter had never heard of it. Similarly with blogging, 34% said they had heard of it but weren’t sure what it meant.

As it happens I’ve made some initial steps in this direction, though for a different reason. Though for the last few years I’ve been using “OSS” as an abbreviation for “Open Source Software,” this doesn’t work in a world where search engines are so important. It’s better to say “open source” than “OSS”, and it’s even better to say “Open-Source” than “open source”. That’s why I’ve gone over my earlier entries and replaced each instance of “OSS” with “open-source software.”

We’ll return to this topic later, but the hour is late, and as Pepys so often wrote:

ASTB (And So To Bed)

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