I am an evangelist for the English language. I like to use actual English words when I’m speaking or writing English. It’s estimated that Shakespeare and his contemporaries had a vocabulary of roughly 20,000 words compared to the average college graduate today who has a vocabulary of around 6,000 words… and, apparently, we don’t even want to use those. So we use just letters and numbers to create specific shorthand. This isn’t new and it’s how languages evolve – but when the change is as rapid and widespread as what’s happened since the advent of the world-wide web, it can leave a lot of confusion in its wake.
Many companies have taken heed of that confusion and actually spell things out in their customer-facing communications, but then that’s as far as it goes. If you delve into their internal corporate communications or communications to other business partners, they’re using the shorthand of acronyms and buzzwords. I get why it happens. If you can express an idea in less time or space on a page, one naturally tends to opt for the shorter route to communication. I recognize that I did just that in the second paragraph of this post, by using the buzzword “customer-facing”. If I were to write out the idea I’m trying to convey by using that conjoined term, it would be “communications that the customer will view” or something like that.
Companies exhort their minions to be clear in communications, especially to customers. But then, with the majority of the communicating they do throughout the day (internally) very little actual English is spoken among the mad stew of jargon, buzzwords and acronyms that rather remind me of Klingon. When I’m sitting with company representatives as a consultant and I’m asking certain things about their systems or operations and they’re answering me with their own internal acronyms, it often takes them several minutes to understand that someone from outside their company has no idea what a PCSM process is. Quite often, this conjures another acronym in my head that includes the letters W, T and F. And it isn’t the one that translates to “For The Win!” either.
I recently spent time at a client site where the senior executive was speaking about the various projects they had in progress that month as well as frequent references to BAU. I thought what? Behavioral Analysis Unit? They have serial killers to track down among their systems projects? I don’t think I’m charging enough for this gig. It turns out that they were referring to “Business As Usual” or all of the work that one has to manage even when there are no specific projects happening.
Sometimes, even writing things out instead of using the acronym doesn’t help. Here’s an example from the post office:
Every Door Direct Mail – This option is designed for businesses that want to send larger mailings. You submit your mailing at a Business Mail Entry Unit (BMEU).
If I hadn’t had the experience that I’ve had, I still would have no idea where to find a BMEU (ba-MEEYOO?) or Business Mail Entry Unit. Or even what it is. Governmental and Quasi-governmental groups like the Post Office seem determined to prevent anyone from figuring out what they’re talking about.
Another place where companies lapse into short-speak is in their job postings. Here’s one with the company name redacted – acronyms in red.
ICD-10 Project Manager
[XYZ] Consulting continues to experience tremendous growth and we are looking to add key players to our national Regulatory and Compliance practice. [edited for length] The successful candidate will have:
* A minimum of seven years of healthcare Provider or Payer experience. Five years of in-depth, detailed project lead experience for healthcare projects including IT.
* PMP and Coding experience and at least one or more of the following credentials: CPC, RHIA, RHIT, CCS, or CCS-P. RN and or BSN are preferred in addition to the HIT certification
* In-depth, detailed project lead experience for healthcare IT projects (preferably a PMP)
* previous gap analysis work experience;
* a thorough understanding of HIPAA
* healthcare application implementation experience
* a strong understanding of ICD-9 CM, & understanding of ICD-10.
* Experience in consulting, project management, and/or business/clinical business process reengineering is a huge plus
* Must be able to communicate effectively at all levels.
I bolded that last requirement because it’s ironic and made me LOL (laugh out loud). Just read aloud only what’s in red and you’ll get the idea.
OK – I understand that in this context, the acronyms might actually be used to weed out those who have no experience with some of the products/process/concepts that are key parts of the job. But too many times, I’ve encountered job postings where the acronyms are specific to that company or industry, such that nobody outside the narrow focus that they’ve set would ever know what they’re talking about. I had to look up what ICD-10 is. Here’s what I found:
The International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th Revision (ICD-10), of 1992, is a medical classification list by the World Health Organization (WHO), for the coding of diseases, signs and symptoms, abnormal findings, complaints, social circumstances, and external causes of injury or diseases. The code set allows more than 14,400 different codes and permits the tracking of many new diagnoses. Using optional subclassifications, the codes can be expanded to over 16,000 codes. Using codes that are meant to be reported in a separate data field, the level of detail that is reported by ICD can be further increased, using a simplified multiaxial approach.
The WHO provides detailed information about ICD online, and makes available a set of materials online, such as an ICD-10 online browser, ICD-10 Training, ICD-10 online training, ICD-10 online training support, and study guide materials for download.
The International version of ICD should not be confused with national Clinical Modifications of ICD that include frequently much more detail, and sometimes have separate sections for procedures. For instance, the US ICD-10 CM has some 68,000 codes. The US also has ICD-10 PCS a procedure code system not used by other countries that contains 76,000 codes.
Again, I bolded the last paragraph of the explanation for irony. I mean…who could confuse the ICD with the US ICD-10 CM or the US ICD-10 PCS? It’s ludicrous! So this posting isn’t really using lots of company-specific acronyms, but they are using many industry-specific ones that make the posting difficult to read. That may be deliberate – they’re talking about a job where one has to know 76,000 codes, after all – but when you’re indoctrinating new employees into your own little Klingon-speak before they’re even employees, don’t be surprised when some of that bleeds through where you didn’t want it to.