Acronyms have become so prevalent that they suffer what anything does when coined without end: devaluation. “Oh, my God” still packs quite a punch in the right circumstances. “OMG”, by contrast, is barely effective as a plaything any more. (“OMG he’s cute.” “OMG is it ten already?”) LOL began life as “laughing out loud”, a way for internet chatterers to explain a long pause in typing. Now, LOL means “you just said something so amusing my lip curled for a moment there.” And how many BFFs will truly be best friends forever? Teens, with their habit of bleaching once-mighty words (from “awesome” to “fantastic”), can quickly render a coinage banal.
Perhaps the perfect modern movie is the cult classic “Office Space”. The anti-hero, Peter, begins his working day with a dressing-down from a droning boss about forgetting to put the cover-sheets on his TPS reports. We never find out what a TPS report is. Nor do we have to; the name alone tells us all we need to know about the life seeping out of Peter’s days, three capital letters at a time.
Acronyms have become so ubiquitous that we look for them even where they don’t exist. They are a major source of the folk etymologies that ping around the internet, etymologies for words that aren’t actually acronyms. “Fuck” isn’t short for “for unlawful carnal knowledge”, “posh” has nothing to do with “port out, starboard home”, and a “tip”, while it might be to insure promptness, certainly doesn’t derive its name from that phrase. All these words are much older than the profusion of acronyms in English. When, in fact, did we start talking in acronyms, and why?
Read the full essay at Intelligent Life ….