2018.03.22 Let Us Call It Steve

Do you remember that at some point you learned about the telegraph? Morse keys and all that...? We are still suffering from the impact on the language.

Telegraphs played a major role in expanding the "reach of civilization". It is not a coincidence that so many American states became part of the Union during the period where communication no longer had to rely on The Pony Express.

But telegrams were expensive so standard expressions got abbreviated.

Add radio communication from the military and American English went FUBAR.

If you thought acronyms had something to do with limiting messages to 140 characters or easy shorthand when sending texts, I am sorry. This is a more than 150 year old tradition.

For foreigners, acronyms and abbreviations can be problematic because we have to know the standard phrases to understand where the acronyms/abbr. come from. If you didn't know the word abbreviation, abbr. is nonsens. With no vowels it is not even a word. This challenge is not unique to English.

As Latin was widespread among the literati in days of yore, many abbreviations are shared among many countries. I think it is safe to say that all people of Western Europe are familiar with "P.S." and "etc". - Post Scriptum and Et Cetera - to the point where the abbreviations give more meaning that the actual words.

But then there are all the other weird letter combinations.

I am not talking about hashtags. I am talking about naming just about any group with a cleverly thought up name for the purpose of it having a cute acronym. I am talking about the whole public system being discussed in three letter abbreviations: "Could you contact my CPA to see if this note from DMV should be included for the IRS?"

In my experience they don't really talk like this outside the U.S. of A.

How about ASAPs? Do they mean "as soon as possible"? Not universally - people(s) who use acronyms seem to have very little time and patience and "as possible" means "Now!". Unless it doesn't - but then it may come across as rude to a person who interprets it as "now!".

(I know, British English is even more obtuse. "At your earliest possible convenience" has nothing to do with convenience - but at least they don't write AYEPC.)

I am sure there is a reason for acronyms outside of telegrams. They may serve a mnemonic purpose - making it easier to remember something. Examples are HOMES: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior - in case you want to remember the names of the Great Lakes. Or OCEAN for the Big 5 personality traits: Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extravertion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.

Then I read about Steve. Steve stands for "Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement."

No, it doesn't. These Northern lights were named Steve because of a cartoon movie! The "Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement" is a backronym, an attempt to find something meaningful that Steve can stand for.

Perhaps it will be a trend?

Unusually Stormy Administration or

Tantrums Regularly Undo Major Policies.

The game is on.