DEAR MISS MANNERS: I'm beginning to despise the use of acronyms at my work.
We live in a society that has evolved into a culture of getting things done at an ultra-fast pace. Even in something as simple as a conversation, we search for ways to save time. Consequently the use of acronyms to abbreviate titles or phrases has become increasingly popular in business, social media and our everyday conversations.
Though acronyms can be very useful, they are only appropriate when the people you're addressing recognize and understand what the abbreviation stands for. To assume they do is not only impolite, but can make the conversation confusing and distract from the discussion.
Think about it: If you use an acronym that is unfamiliar to your addressees, they are forced to make a choice of interrupting the conversation for an explanation, making an assumption about its meaning, ignoring it, or making a mental note to look it up later.
A good rule to ensure the meaning of your acronym is communicated is to precede an acronym with its expanded name (e.g., "Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA") the first time it's used in conversation or a letter.
The short time it takes to convey the meaning of an acronym when first used becomes insignificant compared to the problems and annoyance created when the meaning is not understood by the recipient.
GENTLE READER: Welcome to Washington. Oh, wait; you say it is everywhere.
A rule is already on the books against addressing people in a language they do not understand. It applies especially to tourists in foreign lands who believe that an increase in volume compensates for an absence of vocabulary.
But tourists are not the only people who should be making an effort to learn a new vocabulary. Eavesdroppers have no right to complain that they don't understand what others are saying. Those who marry into foreign families will find that mastering even a few phrases will engender appreciation.
Similarly, Miss Manners agrees that the informal use of acronyms, jargon and slang should be confined to those who can reasonably be expected to understand. When there is doubt, your suggestion of giving the full name first is a good one.
But you speak of the use of acronyms at your workplace. There it is up to you to learn the terms in common use. And if you really have moved to Washington, you should resign yourself to the fact that governmentese is the local language.
Now, if you want to get Miss Manners started on emoticons, she would not be so tolerant.