Last night I was talking to one of my teens and her cousin about text acronyms. “I just learned what FTW means,” I said quietly so their grandparents wouldn’t overhear us. The grandparents were talking to the grandsons about something else.
“What did you think it means?” my daughter asked. Until a couple of days ago, I understood it was the less polite of two popular options and I mouthed it carefully. They thought this was hilarious.
I’ve seen FTW applied in winning situations and given the attitude of some cutthroat competition, I thought my version made sense. Oh well.
It did get me thinking about literacy. I’m not the only one to misinterpret acronyms. There are over 9,000 terms you could use, and that number is growing all the time. In the acronym-or-hashtag-anything-on-any-platform spirit, you never know what might actually be used and catch on.
I have a mixed relationship with acronyms. They are fun and fast, which makes them functional. That works if you’re communicating with someone you know. If you’re writing for an audience beyond that, the downfall of the acronyms is they can kill clarity. Any piece of writing full of acronyms can be confusing and you can lose your reader.
10 Rules for Using Acronyms suggests “Common use acronyms are those you would feel comfortable using in a conversation with your grandmother”. (Note to self re: FTW.) Another piece of advice says “Use only if abbreviation is conventional [and] is apt to be familiar” is sound, but familiarity is definitely audience-dependent.
The one thing that is clear about acronym use is that it’s not perfect. When in doubt, spell it out. And in the case of FTW, do so only in certain company.
Image: Dianne Hope, Morguefile