WILTSE: The proliferation of acronyms

Mar 2, 2012

That being said, let me tell you of my ailments. I have PAD, or peripheral artery disease — at least that is what the advertising agencies call it now, or have recently dubbed it since they invented a medicine they want to sell the sufferers of it.

The medical field more accurately referred to it as peripheral vascular disease, since it affects the veins as well as the arteries.

When I was young, it was called “hardening of the arteries,” and I believe that even physicians referred to it as such. I don’t know how long the physicians have been referring to it as peripheral vascular disease. It is clear why Madison Avenue changed the name to peripheral artery disease, since it forms a pronounceable acronym, and PVD appears to be absolutely disgusting.

PAD isn’t the only disease which has recently been renamed with initials. My neighbor has COPD, which used to be called emphysema.

Do you know what COPD is? It cannot only be emphysema, but any disease of the lungs — anything from bronchitis to tuberculosis. Why is it called COPD?

Actually, the initials stand for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Curiously, it doesn’t seem to include lung cancer. Lung cancer is still called lung cancer, I think.

I have a friend who had a series of TIAs. I never heard of a TIA. It turns out that a TIA is a mild stroke. I don’t know why it suddenly is no longer a mild stroke but is a TIA.

On a recent visit to an RN (registered nurse), I asked her what the initials TIA stand for. She told me. Five minutes later I had forgotten, but I wanted to impress my wife with my newfound wisdom, so I asked the nurse again. She told me, but I forgot what it was before I left the building.

For the purpose of this article, I had to look it up in Wikipedia. It stands for transient ischemic attack.

I’ll bet you won’t be able to tell me what TIA stands for tomorrow. It suffices to think of TIA as a mild stroke.

The use of acronyms and initials seems to be proliferating at an extremely rapid pace. It by no means is limited to medicine, but is everywhere — especially since the rise of the Internet, Twitter and Facebook. I won’t attempt to go into the initials of the latter two, since I refuse to enter either for I don’t want my entire life to be made public.

Of course, the use of initials is everywhere, and is not confined to geriatric disorders. I noticed a couple of years ago that a shoe store in the mall (where I walk daily) was having a BOGO sale. I didn’t know what a bogo was and wanted to ask them, but they are never open when I go there (people who like to shop also don’t seem to want to get up in the morning).

Then I noticed that a ladies dress shop also had a BOGO sale. Now I was really curious. The health food store also was selling BOGOs. Now I was really confused.

Finally, I got the idea: It was a “buy one, get one” sale. I was glad that I never went into the shoe store and asked for a bogo.

I’ll never forget the first time I encountered the initials “ASAP.” Our department secretary sent me a memo asking me to get the minutes of a committee meeting to her ASAP. I didn’t know what ASAP meant and, rather than exhibiting my ignorance, I ignored it and set the memo aside for a couple of days.

When I finally gave her the document, I asked her what it meant. I was very icily informed that it meant “as soon as possible.”

Believe me, that whenever she put ASAP on her memos thereafter, she got a response very quickly because there is nothing more dangerous than the irritation of a secretary.

I suppose that the proliferation of the use of initials is an improvement in the language and is an inevitable result in the modernization of the same. But I’m old-fashioned and prefer to refer to hardening of the arteries as hardening of the arteries; and calling a buy one, get one sale as just that.

BFN (bye for now).

— By Ralph Wiltse, Tribune community columnist

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