The Slippery Slope of Abbreviations

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Slippery Slope of Abbreviations

E-mail and text-messaging have combined to create a world in which people concoct abbreviations for just about everything -- even terms or phrases that are relatively short. As you might have sensed, I'm not a fan of this trend. Even when I'm blogging, my journalistic inner child tends to resist abbreviations.

Now the other Limbaugh -- conservative commentator David Limbaugh -- has decided to introduce yet another abbreviation. Care to guess what MSM stands for?

In this recent column in The Washington Times, Limbaugh feels compelled to abbreviate the words "mainstream media" as MSM.

Sometimes, a term is abbreviated for the sake of space. The term "obsessive-compulsive disorder" contains a lengthy 27 letters, which makes a good argument for why someone might choose to abbreviate when they say:
"Mrs. Brown, you've got a lovely daughter, but she has OCD."
So what's the appropriate threshold? Are 15 letters enough to justify creating an abbreviation for mainstream media? In the literary world, this strikes me as a set-aside, a special right that is given to some terms, but not others. Aren't conservatives like David Limbaugh always telling us that quotas and other set-asides are wrong?

And if we say it's okay to write MSM for "mainstream media," who knows where it all ends? (It's like marriage; allow two men to legally marry, and pretty soon people are marrying box turtles.) Like a gateway drug encourages further experimentation, MSM could well open the door to people using NTM for "non-traditional media," BCM for "broadcast media," and a host of related terms.

These are scary times, my friends. You've got people making up abbreviations over here, people making 'em up over there. Pretty soon, we've lost control of our language, and you've got full-scale linguistic anarchy (LGA).

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