Today I came across an article on DigitalGov describing the hot new IT buzzwords for 2017, and reading it, I felt equal parts impressed and irritated. It’s fantastic that technology is moving fast enough that we have to constantly innovate with language to describe the newest process or concept that’s taking the IT world by storm. On the other hand, overuse of buzzwords can make discussions between professionals turn into incomprehensible gibberish for anyone not fully immersed in the field. This can hamper collaboration across different fields, if we literally can’t understand what the other person is saying. I know I’m not the only person irritated by buzzwords, since buzzword bingo and the Business Buzzword Generator exist.
And don’t even get me started on acronyms…if you’ve worked with any government organization, in academia, or in pretty much any professional field, you’re probably drowning in a SEA of acronyms. Yes, acronyms are definitely needed (who wants to constantly repeat “United States Patent and Trademark Office,” instead of USPTO?), but that doesn’t mean they don’t drive me crazy.
So how can we go about deciphering buzzwords and acronyms? Google is a good place to start for buzzwords, and Wikipedia offers a handy article listing education, business, science/technology, political, and general conversation buzzwords. For the library sciences field in particular, many academic LibGuides (see DTS, Cornell, Lesley) offer glossaries of common library and research terms. A great article by John Kupersmith describes best practices for translating research/library terminology for patrons, to improve service and reduce miscommunication.
For acronyms, I usually try a quick search of Acronym Finder or Free Dictionary. A search of USPTO, for instance, on either site will immediately identify “United States Patent and Trademark Office” as the most likely meaning. Both sites also list possible alternate definitions for less unique acronyms (like SEA, which has 114 possible meanings listed on Acronym Finder). If you’re specifically looking for definitions of government acronyms, you also might want to try the GovSpeak Libguide from UC San Diego.
Acronyms and buzzwords are both necessary evils, since we need words for new ideas and shorthand for impossibly long agency names. That doesn’t mean we should let buzzwords and acronyms hold us back, though…a quick online search will usually find a definition for even the most bizarre jargon.