It is time to ditch the TLA (Three-letter acronym)

Today, as so many days before, I am reading a technical text from someone that works in technology, to shorten the text they have created their own TLA (Three-letter acronym), not only one but several. Because of this, and many other texts like this I think it is time we kill the three-letter acronym!

We have come to a place where a three-letter acronym is no good unless it can be confused with at least three other similar three-letter acronyms, where companies invent their own acronyms and totally disregard that they already exist, when I worked at Microsoft, my job title was CSA a three-letter acronym that just on Wikipedia have over 53 different meanings! And while I think most people could work out the Cloud Solution Architect and guess that I was neither a Common Support Aircraft nor a Common Scrambling Algorithm, it takes mental power from them that could have been used to understand much more important things! This is especially true if you are a CEO (Chief Executive Officer) who is currently inventing yet another three-letter acronym to use inside your organisation.

Three-letter acronyms were used to communicate more clearly and to remember common concepts and terms, but all of this value goes OTW (Out The Window) when they can have 50+ meanings! When we can no longer use three-letter acronyms to recognize standard terms and concepts they lose all their power of memorability and space saving and serve only to confuse and annoy.

But, Karl-Henrik, you might be thinking, surely this is easy to learn, just get over yourself. However, I say NO, because it actually gets worse! So often when you create your own three-letter acronyms they reprecent phrases and sentences that are in them selves hard to understand! Take CPI (Consumer Price Index) for example, consumer price index means “the price of a weighted average market basket of consumer goods and services purchased by households.”, yes, this term that some people throw around is itself not that straightforward, especially to someone not working in that field, so for the sake of clarity I think it is time to ditch the three-letter acronyms and communicate more clearly!

When I posted my experience on LinkedIn about the misunderstandings caused by three-letter acronyms, some of my friends chimed in with their own amusing stories.

Profile Photo

Robert Folkesson
Not too long ago I was in a meeting where half the room thought the SQL we talked about meant the product - and half the room thought it meant "Sales Qualified Leads" 😂

Profile Photo

Johan Nordberg
A while back we had internal presentations about the updates in the new Well-Architected Framework. About 45 minutes in the session of the Security pillar, someone raised the hand and asked a question about a feature in Azure Web Application Firewall. "WAF is the same as WAF, right?"

At the very least, if you believe three-letter acronyms improves your writing style and organisation, explain them, write them out so that people do not have to look them up. Respect that what feels natural and easy to you could be hard to understand for someone else with a different background, I am personally still shocked when people do not know what BRB (Be Right Back) and BBL (Be Back Later) means but it turns out that not everyone spent their youth productively using IRC (Internet Relay Chat). And if you think that this would create effort on your part think again, I only used three-letter acronyms when writing this text, then explained to OpenAI what they were (once) and asked it to fill them in.

So if you ask me, It’s time to ditch the TLA (Three-letter acronym)!

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.