Wednesday, September 03, 2003


Anne Applebaum has an amusing Washington Post op-ed on the proliferation of acronyms in the federal government:
It isn't only energy policy that's affected by the initialism disease, of course. Environmental policy is nearly paralyzed by it, what with the frequent nonchalant references to "flipma" (FLPMA: the Federal Land Policy and Management Act) or SMACRA (Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act). Health policy is pretty bad too, what with PPSs, PPOs, HMOs, SCHIP -- pronounced "S-Chip" -- not to mention HIPAA and CLIA, for the truly initiated, many of which are administered by HHS's CMS, whose Web site contains a link to an acronym glossary where you can look them all up. While regulators are the worst -- banking regulation acronyms are so profuse I'm trying not to learn them -- in recent years Washington insiders have also begun to use initialisms even when perfectly good ordinary names are available. Take the vaguely obscene "SCOTUS" and "POTUS," fairly common terms used when the speaker wants to indicate both that he is talking about the Supreme Court of the United States or the president of the United States, and that he is a hip insider who would never use ordinary, plebeian terms such as "the Supreme Court" or "the president." And for the cognoscente there's always "FLOTUS," a reference, of course, to the first lady.

It can get confusing. What is the ICC, after all -- is it the International Criminal Court, or the Interstate Commerce Commission, or Maryland's proposed intercounty connector? And why is the NAACP pronounced "en-double-A-see-pee," whereas AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons, is pronounced, simply, "arp"? Could it be because AARP recently changed its official name to Aarp, actually transforming its title from an acronym into a brand-new word? Some pronunciations defy logic altogether -- such as PFIAB, the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, pronounced "Piffy-Ab."
It's always a tricky question whether you should pronounce each individual letter or just say the whole thing as one word. With the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for example, not many people would intuit that NHTSA is pronounced "nitsa."

There is one agency, however, as to which the answer is fairly clear: Pronouncing FCC as one word could be particularly hazardous, depending on the vowel selected.


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