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Many columns ago, we discussed acronyms, or abbreviations of phrases into short, pithy terms that stand for the longer idea. More than a year later, since our vocabulary keeps getting expanded with dizzying speed and new acronyms have come on stream, it’s time to revisit them for a quick update.
How often have you lately been sent the cryptic “TL;DR”? I had no clue what it meant when I first saw it myself. “TL;DR” means “Too Long; Didn’t Read”, and it functions in a variety of ways, whether apologetic (sorry, I didn’t have the time to read the long piece you sent me), accusatory (I asked you a question but what you sent was too long to read). But it’s also increasingly being used to mean “the gist” or “the summary” of a long and complex idea, as in “the TL;DR of this is”, followed by a short explanation: “the TL;DR of this is that global warming is real” . And it even serves as an adjective: “I was trying to explain the concept to her, but she shot off a TL;DR message and I gave up!”
Of course, as the frequency of the phrase’s usage multiplies, “TL;DR” also seems to be a contronym — a word whose usage incorporates two opposite meanings that contradict each other. After all, “TL;DR” can be used both to introduce a brief summary of a topic, and to point to something as being too long to read!
Another increasingly popular acronym for today’s young people is FOMO, for the “Fear of Missing Out”, which impels many into joining activities that otherwise they might have been inclined to skip. But the enforced home life of the Covid pandemic has led to a different set of habits, epitomised in the newly-popular expression “goblin mode”, where people prefer to remain curled up in bed, unshaven and in their pyjamas. This has led to the coining of “JOMO”, for the “Joy of Missing Out”. The rest of you want to go and visit the latest club that’s come up in town? Go ahead — I’m luxuriating in JOMO!
Everyone these days is familiar with NIMBY, or “Not in my Backyard” — the attitude of all those who resist encroachments on their personal space, and more seriously organise protests against everything from nuclear plants to waste-processing units being located close to their homes. But now, at least in California, NIMBYs are giving way to their opposite, YIMBYs — folks who say “Yes in My Backyard”. YIMBYs are quite willing to have projects built in their neighbourhoods, saying “yes” to high-density development. The term arose because of a change in planning rules in California that will make it easier to build homes as well as offices and shops in the same areas. Hitherto, the NIMBYs had ensured strict zoning laws in California to separate living and working areas so that no one could build an office building next to their home, but now the YIMBYs have changed the rules — and as The Economist has observed, “Where California leads, the rest of the world tends to follow.” So you’d better get used to YIMBY!
All this must strike readers as very 21st century — it’s a hallmark of our WhatsApp era that people prefer to say “ROFL” to convey that they are “Rolling on the Floor Laughing” or “BRB” rather than taking the trouble to type the words “Be Right Back”. Of course, “ASAP” for “As Soon As Possible” and “FYI” meaning “For Your Information” have been around for decades and can be called 20th century terms, but “G2G” for “Got to go” and “TTYL” meaning “Talk To You Later” are more recent and can be traced to the 21st century habit of sending short text messages.
But I was startled to discover that the early 19th century was just as bad. The Merriam-Webster dictionary recently uncovered an 1839 New York newspaper report of a young woman remarking to her male friend “O.K.K.B.W.P.” Apparently, this cryptic acronym led to the young man rewarding her with a kiss. The newspaper explained that her acronym translates as “one kind kiss before we part”. Or was that “TMI” — “Too Much Information?” You decide! TTYL — BRB!
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