Monday, May 11, 2009

Blame the Nonexistent Society for Parenthetical Initialisms (NSPI)

Lots of writers think that, anytime you have an organization name, you should shove its initials in parentheses immediately after the first reference to the organization. Like, say, the Nonexistent Society for Parenthetical Initialisms (NSPI).

Once you've done that, Jane writer thinks, you can just use the initials thereafter, never having to worry about whether the abbreviation has any meaning whatsoever for the reader.

It's a slap in the face to the reader. A, "Hey, I already told you what NSPI stands for. Now it's YOUR job to take it as something meaningful. Ball's in your court." Plus, it has those damn disrupting we-interrupt-our-current-programming parentheses that drive me nuts.

It's funniest when there ARE no subsequent references. In those cases it amounts to, "Hey! Did you know that this association has not just a name but also initials?!?"

I want to kvetch about writers who think this is standard form. But I used to be one of them.

I have no idea how that bad idea got into my head. But, for the record, here's how some of the most professional publications deal with long organization names, etc., and their initials as abbreviations:

* If the initialism is already known to the reader, use away: CIA, FBI.

* If the initials do not form a familiar moniker, give the full name on first reference. Then, on subsequent references, find a word meaningful to the reader to use in its place. "Nonexistent Society for Parenthetical Initialisms president is John Doe. He said that the society is conducting a survey." Society, association, organization, the school (especially helpful in place of "The Tupelo College of Industrial Sciences, Graphic Arts, and Peach Harvesting (TCISGAPH).")

* If there's some reason why the initialism must be used, place the first instance close enough to the full name that you don't have to squeeze in an eye-jarring parenthetical. If it's clear, the reader will get it.

* If a quotation contains an initialism, well, you can't change that (at least, not without making it worse with those god-awful brackets). So, in those cases, see if there's a more flowing way to introduce the initialism. "John Doe is the president of the organization, known in the community as TCISGAPH." (That is, you're weaving in the fact that it has this nickname instead of cramming it in.)

* Occasionally, when all the alternatives stink, go ahead and put the initials in parentheses. But this is a last resort, and should be chosen for the reader's benefit and not for the writer's convenience.

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Faldone said...

You want bad? I'll give you bad. I have seen cases where the initialism was used as many as four times before getting the full name in parenthses:

"The NSPE met Friday for their forty-leventh annual meeting. The NSPE has been meeting in the Old Same Place since 1998. Prior to that the NSPE meetings were held in the Other Bldg. Anyone wishing to join the NSPE (Nonexistent Society for Parenthetical Expansions) may do so on our website, www.nspe.bog"

June Casagrande said...

Wow. I didn't think anything could be worse than overzealous use of those insertions. But you're right: Not using them -- or waiting too long -- can be worse.

Such a dis on the reader.


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