A particular work conversation sticks in my head. People kept referring to ‘pots’ and I thought to myself, ‘This must be an important technical term that I need to acquaint myself with fast’. It turns out pots stands for ‘Plain Old Telephone Service’.
Turning it into an acronym made me feel like a moron as I sat in the meeting thinking I was way behind everyone else who knew all about this POTS business. It also meant I wasted time looking up the term. If they had merely said ‘plain old phone service’ I would have understood immediately and not wasted time dwelling on my supposed ignorance.
I have been working in and around the telecommunications industry for 10 years now, so it is surprising I haven’t already felt the need to get this off my chest.
The telco business is a complicated one, no doubt. But do we help ourselves by creating hundreds upon hundreds of acronyms? And this is no exaggeration. There are around 200 beginning with the letter ‘C’ alone!
We all know the purpose of these acronyms is to condense long-winded terminology and simplify work talk. In the case of VDSL – Very High Speed Digital Subscriber Line – an acronym makes sense. It is a commonly referred to term in the industry. It would add seconds, if not minutes, to work conversations and emails if we were to articulate or spell it out word by word each time. It is a similar case for ADSL, UFB, HDTV and IoT. These are justified and I am sure a few others are too.
And then there is AVFFP and XaaS, and WYAH. I mean, WTF! What are you all? We even turn names of companies that are already only a few letters long into acronyms that are a couple of letters long. We add symbols, full stops, dashes and slashes. Some acronyms have so many characters, they could be anything.
Now, I am no engineer and maybe that is the problem. But let’s face it, most of us in the industry aren’t engineers. To me, PDA means Public Display of Affection. But to someone more tech-minded, it will be a reference to their Personal Digital Assistant. That one has the potential to get awkward.
At what point do acronyms become unhelpful? When they turn into some sort of private language. So, back to my earlier point about VDSL, it comes down to frequency of use, and to judging your audience. Know not to talk to a marketer about BOOTP or expect a blank look.
Telco concepts are hard. Let’s not make them harder.
Anyway, that's just BTW, IMHO, FYI.
Holly Cushen is a senior communications advisor for Chorus. She has worked in telecommunications for 10 years and thinks the industry loves its acronyms way too much