This is the type of sentence I’ve been reading lately as we prepare for our big move: The USG requires the EL FSO and his EFMs to identify their POV, HHE and UAB to the CDO and AO for CDA this CY for the TDY post at the FSI.
This is my reaction to this type of sentence: Huh?
Translated into English: The United States Government requires the Entry Level Foreign Service Officer and his Eligible Family Members to identify their Personally Owned Vehicle, House Hold Effects and Unaccompanied Air Baggage to the Career Development Officer and Assignment Officer for Career Development and Assignment this Calendar Year for the Temporary Duty post at the Foreign Service Institute. Phew.
Before we embarked on this FS Odyssey my head was already swimming with the new(ish) language of acronyms on the internet: LOL, BRB, IMO, LMAO, TBH etc… And I thought I was doing pretty well given that my generation’s acronyms were pretty much limited to FYI and BTW. I have patiently explained to
my mother a woman I know that LOL means “Laugh out Loud” not “Lots of Love,” I pride myself on having some clue as to what my 13 year old niece says in her Facebook posts (though I’m still baffled by the emoticons…) and I deftly use a few of the easier combinations in my own texts. But the acronyms of the internet are child’s play compared to the acronyms of the U.S.G. In my view you should get language points for understanding and interpreting half of what is written in the booklets and on the web as you hop on the USG Acronym express to FS land.
There is actually a crib sheet at the Department of State (DOS, or more typically “State”) website. A 16-page crib sheet. Check it out here if you are curious (or want to learn a new language…).
I’ve been a lawyer now for 17+ years and heaven knows we’ve got our own problems with complicated language and wording. But acronyms are not so widely used. And they are more about being lazy (saying TRO instead of temporary restraining order) than about inventing a whole new language. I got all the way through law school without ever hearing the Supreme Court referred to as SCOTUS, but I guarantee every FSO inductee knows what SCOTUS, FLOTUS and POTUS mean.
B, of course, has adapted to the acronym heavy world of the FS like a fish to water. I swear he often throws out whole sentences like the one I started this post with. I stare at him dumbly when he does this, mentally ticking through what “H” could possibly stand for in the context he has used it in. I’m sure I’ll get it eventually, but I’m a little worried that before that happens my HHE will end up in the place my UAB is supposed to go. I’m also going to start a “Glossary of Terms” page on this Blog and I suspect I’ll be referring to it often.
In the meantime, maybe I’ll check to see if the SNAP can help me figure it all out…
One thought on “Acronyms are U.S.(G)”
Debbie, thought you will find this of interest:
Think you will find this interesting:
Writing tips from the CIA’s ruthless style manual
By Michael Silverberg @mbd_s July 8, 2014
Never mind what happened; was the memo crisp and pungent? AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
This post has been updated.
Strunk & White, it turns out, were CIA sources. The authors of The Elements of Style, a classic American writing guide, are cited alongside Henry Fowler, Wilson Follett, and Jacques Barzun in the Directorate of Intelligence’s Style Manual & Writers Guide for Intelligence Publications, whose eighth edition (from 2011) was quietly posted online (pdf) by the legal nonprofit National Security Counselors a little over a year ago, following a Freedom of Information Act request. (The document first surfaced on social media late last week.) So what role do partisans in the usage wars (pdf) have in a guide produced by an intelligence agency with a hidden hand in many real-life conflicts?
Though the CIA may dissemble as a matter of course, it speaks plainly to policymakers and operations officers—its “customers,” in the language of the manual. The foreword begins, “Good intelligence depends in large measure on clear, concise writing. The information CIA gathers and the analysis it produces mean little if we cannot convey them effectively.”
As revealed in the manual, the CIA is a prescriptivist scold, a believer in the serial comma, and a champion of “crisp and pungent” language “devoid of jargon.” It takes a firm stand against false titles used attributively and urges intelligence writers to lowercase the w in Vietnam war (“undeclared”).
Like any style guide, whether it’s produced for a magazine or a government agency, this one reflects its authors’ environment and biases. The missile-related acronyms ABM, ICBM, IRBM, SAM, SLBM, and SRBM are all deemed well-known enough not to have to spell out. “US imperialism” gets scare quotes. Most jarring are the often bellicose usage examples, which are littered with protests, human rights positions, free enterprise, surface ship deployments, oilfields, and bombs.
For more insight into how the CIA writes—and thinks—Quartz collected some notable entries from the 190-page document:
Keep the language crisp and pungent; prefer the forthright to the pompous and ornate.
Do not stray from the subject; omit the extraneous, no matter how brilliant it may seem or even be.
Favor the active voice and shun streams of polysyllables and prepositional phrases.
Keep sentences and paragraphs short, and vary the structure of both.
Be frugal in the use of adjectives and adverbs; let nouns and verbs show their own power.
regime: has a disparaging connotation and should not be used when referring to democratically elected governments or, generally, to governments friendly to the United States.
tortuous (adj, twisting, devious, highly complex)
torturous (adj, causing torture, cruelly painful)
while: as a conjunction, usually has reference to time. While the President was out of the country, the Army staged a coup. It can, with discretion, also be used in the sense ofalthough or but. While he hated force, he recognized the need for order. Avoid using while in the sense of and.
number of: a phrase that is too imprecise in some contexts. A number of troops were killed. (If you do not know how many, say an unknown number.)
casualties: include persons injured, captured, or missing in action as well as those killed in battle. In formulating casualty statistics, be sure to write “killed or wounded,” not “killed and wounded.” (See injuries, casualties.)
nonconventional, unconventional: Nonconventional refers to high-tech weaponry short of nuclear explosives. Fuel-air bombs are effective nonconventional weapons. Unconventional means not bound by convention. Shirley Chisholm was an unconventional woman.
war crimes (n)
lay, lie: Lay means to put, place, or prepare. It always takes a direct object. Both the past tense and the past participle are laid. (The President ordered his aide to lay a wreath at the unknown soldier’s tomb. The aide laid the wreath two hours later. Yesterday a wreath was laid by the defense minister.)
affect, effect: Affect as a verb means to influence, to produce an effect upon. (The blow on the head affected John’s vision.) Effect, as a verb, means to bring about. (The assailant effected a change in John’s vision by striking him on the head.) Effect, as a noun, means result. (The effect of the blow on John’s head was blurred vision.)
disinformation, misinformation: Disinformation refers to the deliberate planting of false reports. Misinformation equates in meaning but does not carry the same devious connotation.
celebrity copycatting: can lead one up the garden path because those emulated are not always pure of speech. A venerable newscaster persists in mispronouncing February (without the first r sound) and has misled a whole generation. Another Pied Piper of TV is given to saying “one of those who is”—joining many others who are deceived by the one and forget that the plural who is the subject of the verb (see one). The classic copycat phrase, at this point in time, grew out of the Watergate hearings and now is so firmly entrenched that we may never again get people to say at this time, at present, or simply now (see presently).
Capitalize the W in October War or Six-Day War because either term as a whole is a distinguishing coined name, but 1973 Middle East war or 1967 Arab-Israeli war is distinguishing enough without the capital W. Avoid Yom Kippur war, which is slangy. Do not uppercase the w in Korean war, which was “undeclared”; the same logic applies to Vietnam war and Falklands war, and a similar convention (if not logic) to Iran-Iraq war.
die: is something we all do, even writers who relegate world leaders to a sort of Immortality Club with phrasing like the President has taken steps to ensure a peaceful transition if he should die. Reality can be recognized by inserting in office or before the end of his term, or even by saying simply when he dies.
Free World: is at best an imprecise designation. Use only in quoted matter.
Use parentheses to set off a word, phrase, clause, or sentence that is inserted by way of comment or explanation within or after a sentence but that is structurally independent of it. This style guide (unclassified) will be widely disseminated.
This style guide was prepared by the DI[redacted]
[This post was updated at 2:25 p.m. EDT to clarify when the manual was originally uncovered. The document first circulated on social media late last week, but it was posted online in late 2012 or early 2013 on the website of the intelligence-focused legal nonprofit National Security Counselors. The group’s executive director, Kel McClanahan, received the document in early 2012 after submitting a FOIA request the previous year.]