“PLEASE –  Pretty Lame Excuse for an Acronym, Scientists and Experimenters.” – Mary Roach

Today for some reason we’re going to talk about acronyms. An acronym is what you get when you use the first letters of a string of words as a shorthand way of naming it. When we were holding talks with the old USSR (see? there’s one: Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) about how to limit the nuclear arms race, we got tired of calling them the “Strategic Arms Limitation Talks” and settled on the acronym, “SALT” talks. There were probably people dumb enough to think all those generals and diplomats were discussing seasoning, but they wouldn’t have known what “Multiple Independently targetable Reentry Vehicles” (another one: MIRVs) were anyway. Those acronyms don’t tell you anything about the subject matter they refer to, but there are some more imaginative acronyms that spell out a relevant word.

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Political organizations often strain to come up with meaningful acronyms. Operation PUSH grandiosely styles itself as “People United to Save Humanity.” ACORN stands for “Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.” One of the reforms involved disbanding in the wake of voter fraud charges a few years ago, but you have to give them points for the “mighty oaks from little acorns” imagery.

James Bond films had some sensationally evil acronyms. “SPECTRE” stood for “SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion” That covers a lot of ground. The other evil genius group 007 had to combat was SMERSH which was a real life Soviet era counter-intelligence group, but you’d have to speak Russian to understand the initials. Our big time military defense pacts seem to end in “TO” to stand for “Treaty Organization.,” Like NATO for the North Atlantic and “SEATO” for South East Asia. Maybe someday we’ll have a “NEATO” which is a sufficiently cool acronym that Dennis Rodman might even be able to sell the Norks on it.

Medicine is up to its scrubs in acronyms. Everyone is familiar with the scourge of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.) French scientists call it “SIDA” because, well, they insist on speaking French. The Idler once had someone tell him with a straight face that former Olympic skiing champion Picabo (pronounced “peek-a-boo”) Street had donated funds to build a new Intensive Care Unit at a local hospital, and it was to be named in her honor, the “Picabo ICU.” Right.

But I guess what caught our fancy were reports that the endless Winter had brought on an epidemic of “SAD”, which stands for “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” SAD is such an evocative name. They claim to be able to treat it with “full spectrum” light from special bulbs or something, but it still strikes us as pseudo-science. If you’re bummed out by the weather, just say so. Why the impulse to “medicalize” everything? The next thing you know, people will want to excuse politicians’ financial sleight of hand as Munhall Economic Shenanigan Syndrome” or “MESS.”  Local disagreements over bingo winnings will be dubbed, “West Homestead Ornery Old People Syndrome” or “WHOOPS”. Faltering retail areas will be said to suffer from “BAD”, Braddock Avenue Disorder. Who knows where it might end?

BTW, I thought of some of the foregoing while sitting in traffic at Sixth and Amity, suffering from WAITS, “Waterfront Area Interminable Train Syndrome.” But eventually I got some TLC at EnP and they were PDQ about it. So, TTYL!

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