can we drop the TLAs please?

Don’t know what a TLA is? I rest my case.


Oh you’d like me to say more? Well this is a subject that I have been known to get on a soapbox about.

A TLA is the acronym for a Three Letter Acronym, closely followed by the FoFLA which is the Four or Five Letter Acronym. The worst I’ve found was a grouping of 4 Four Letter Acronyms (making 16 initial letters if my arithmetic is correct). I’ve had friends and colleagues mentioning even worse cases. And no, I can’t remember the acronym or what it stood for because the true meaning was lost in translation.

TLAs and their ilk have been used extensively in the military for many years and have proliferated into the business world. Often TLAs are used by different people to refer to a number of situations – sometimes in the same organisation. Take QMS, I know of three different explanations of that without even thinking about it too hard. You really have to remember that just because you have a meaning for your TLA and you use it to suit your needs, it doesn’t mean that your reader has the same translation.

TLAs are being introduced in ever increasing numbers by the world of texting and it can get quite confusing if you don’t keep up with their usage. Sadly textspeak is mushrooming out into other arenas, even to the extent of inclusion in the OED. Yes, I did that deliberately. For those who are thinking hard it’s the Oxford English Dictionary. I still have to stop and think when I see “LOL” because “lots of love” is not an appropriate translation with most LOLs. I even saw someone on Facebook this week making LOL a verb “I really loled at that one”!

I’ve been looking through quotations recently that express various thoughts and sentiments on the need for brevity in writing. I suppose you could say that using TLAs is making an attempt to keep things brief, however brief is only good if you don’t have to stop to work out what is being said as you’re reading.

Brevity in writing is all about being concise and to the point, not about the number of words or letters you can miss out, another reason I don’t like txtspk.

My favourite quotation on this comes from Samuel Taylor Coleridge “Words in prose ought to express the intended meaning: if they attract attention to themselves, it is a fault; in the very best styles you read page after page without noticing the medium.” Couldn’t have put it better myself Mr Coleridge.


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