Walking the Line between Accuracy and Simplification

Photographer: Nestor's Blurrylife (Flickr)

Photographer: Nestor’s Blurrylife (Flickr)

It’s not often I decide to reload a video on YouTube. The process is not as easy as erasing something on the whiteboard or pressing the Backspace button during a Skype session. I’ve done it before when I caught a really bothersome typo within the first day or two of posting.  Recently, however, I decided to reload a video because I wasn’t happy with my presentation on the kinds of abbreviations used in Internet and text chat slang.

Originally, I was going to talk only about abbreviations. Then as I began to look at various sites with lists of Internet and text chat slang, I discovered that most were categorizing their entries of BFF and the like as Internet and text chat acronyms. Maybe I should have stuck to the broad title of text-speak, but I felt it was worth introducing the term acronym in my video. Curious learners would likely search for more content and would come across lists of “acronyms” and wonder about it’s definition.

The problem began with the difference between abbreviations and acronyms. NATO and OPEC are great examples of acronyms that everyone can agree on, but they didn’t quite have a place in my discussion of Internet slang.  In my first version, I decided to let popular opinion influence me and I included BFF as an acronym. Then a viewer questioned me and asked me not only to distinguish more clearly between abbreviation and acronym, but also address initialisms and truncation.

I decided to find a balance between accuracy and simplification. I had already mentioned acronyms, so the word was out there, hanging in virtual space and waiting for me to make sure it was properly understood by my viewers. I clarified that an acronym was a type of short form based on first letters of words that could be pronounced as a single word.  JPEG was my example for the Internet crowd. I moved BFF along with TLC back to the general category of abbreviations. I didn’t wish to digress into a deeper discussion of word formation, so I also placed vid (the clipped or truncated form of “video”) in that general category as well. In the end, it was enough for learners to see etc., vid, BFF, and TLC were all short forms.

Did I make the right call? I hope so. The hard thing about instructing through video is that it’s less malleable than a live presentation. You can’t clarify or rephrase an idea right away. I took another chance by introducing the concept of shorthand. I felt that use of symbols in Internet and text chat slang went beyond the common understanding of “abbreviation.” My point was that putting abbreviations, acronyms, and conversational shorthand together results in very informal writing. It can be helpful (though challenging) to understand this language since its use is rather common.  My initial and parting advice that never changed throughout the process of revision was that the language I presented was to be seen as informal and inappropriate for academic and professional writing. Lazy writing habits are dangerous habits. While I might still have doubts about my use of labels, I have no doubts about the benefits of addressing Internet and text chat slang and pointing out its potential harm.

Photo “Road to Nowhere” retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/nestorlacle/.

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4 Comments on “Walking the Line between Accuracy and Simplification”

  1. marcio torres da costa Says:

    From Brazil From Marcio

    Thanks Darling.

  2. Marie Thomas Says:

    Hi, Jennifer! Interesting post you got there. I agree with you that for videos there are limitations. It’s not interactive like when you’re inside the classroom. The best you can do is just to reply to comments. That’s how you can clarify.


    • Yes, and usually I clarify by responding to questions in the comment sections or on my community forum, but the point about abbreviation vs. acronym seemed more significant to me. I didn’t want there to be further confusion, so I thought it best to stick to only acronyms that were truly pronounced as a word. I didn’t get into initialisms, but rather placed them in the general category of abbreviations. Hopefully, it will be an acceptable decision for most. :)


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