The Grammar Factor: acronyms, missing and hated words, taming templates

By Mary Morel | February 2016


The common convention if you want to use an acronym is to spell out the full term the first time and put the acronym in brackets. Then you can use the acronym for the rest of the document.

Australian Taxation Office (ATO)

All acronyms are abbreviated with capitals, but that does not mean the spelt-out form must have initial capitals. The normal rules of punctuation apply.

earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA)
environmental impact statement (EIS)

Acronyms are made plural simply by adding a lower case ‘s’ (no apostrophe).

 FAQs, EISs, MCs

Your choice of whether to use ‘a’ or ‘an’ with an acronym is based on the sound. If the first sound of the following word sounds like a vowel, use ‘an’.

 an MC, a BMW, a UNESCO committee

I often see people put quotation marks around the acronym in brackets (“FAQ”), but this is unnecessary. The acronym looks cleaner without them.

When should you use acronyms?
Acronyms are more useful in internal documents than on websites or in public documents.

They are useful when the acronym is better known than the full term. For instance, if you were writing an internal document for Australian business readers, you might choose not to spell out well-known acronyms such as ASIC and APRA (Australian Securities and Investments Commission and Australian Prudential Regulation Authority).

Acronyms are also useful when you use them several times in a document. They are less useful if you only use the acronym a few times.

NB: I am aware that there is a difference between an initialism and an acronym, but think we refer to both as acronyms these days. The difference is that an acronym forms a new word (Qantas) and an initialism doesn’t (FAQ).

Taming board paper templates – lunchtime briefing in Sydney on 22 March

I’m facilitating a lunchtime briefing on board paper templates at the Governance Institute of Australia on 22 March. Visit the Governance Institute website for more information.

Readers’ feedback

More words going missing
It’s not just the US SAT tests that are dropping words. A reader informed me that several words about the English countryside have been dropped from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. They include: acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture, willow.

I learnt there are even more variations for writing about millions of dollars than I realised. One person told me that his organisation uses MM for millions of dollars and M for thousands. That would be confusing.

Another person told me that it is correct to leave a space before M ($6 M) and someone suggested that we should write 6 M$.

I’ve concluded it’s best to avoid abbreviations on websites or public documents. They are, however, useful for internal documents.

I also learnt how to insert a non-breaking space in Microsoft Word – you hold down the Shift-Control-Space keys.

Pet peeves
Well, we are a cantankerous lot at the beginning of this year. Here are some of my readers’ hated words:

  • Impact (as both a noun and verb)
  • Conditions after ‘weather’
  • Situation after ‘emergency’
  • ‘Potentially’ with ‘can’ or ‘could’
  • Obligated
  • Bought/brought (This commercial has been bought to you by…)
  • I, me, myself (This is a picture of my dog and I.)
  • Get instead of ‘may I please have’ at a café (Can I get a…)
  • Off/from (I bought it off eBay. I got it off of eBay.)
  • Disrespect (Why not use ‘showing no respect’?)
  • Offensive when used to mean ‘not to my liking’
  • KR (for kind regards)
  • Hike (interest rates and food prices don’t rise or increase these days, and people are told to take a hike)
  • Graduation used for tots finishing kindergarten
  • Telegraph poles! (after half a century of the internet)
  • Reached out (instead of ‘contacted/phoned/got in touch with’)

Interesting articles about writing

The deep space of digital reading
This is a fascinating article about the history of reading. It says: ‘There’s no question that digital technology presents challenges to the reading brain, but, seen from a historical perspective, these look like differences of degree, rather than of kind.’ Another major change was the advent of silent reading.

Top 10 Grammar Girl podcasts
Mignon Fogarty is celebrating her 500th grammar podcast. The most popular one has been on the difference between affect and effect.

The Post drops the ‘mike’ – and the hyphen in ‘e-mail’
The Washington Post updates its style guide to reflect how language changes.

33 great online resources for ESL speakers
If English is not your native language, this is a great list of resources.

Words of 2015

The Macquarie Dictionary has chosen:

captain’s call

Definition: noun, a decision made by a political or business leader without consultation with colleagues.

The American Dialect Society chose the singular ‘they’.

Quote of the month

‘The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.’
Samuel Johnson


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