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Equine Spring 2006 (Vol 1, No 1)

The Editor's Desk: "IM, Abbrevs, and Science"

by James N. Moore, DVM, PhD

    Having reached the age at which my metabolic rate approximates that of a speed bump, lunch has become rather boring: stacks of lettuce, a few slices of tomato, and wisps of taste-free ranch dressing. If I'm not enjoying this in my office, it is not uncommon for my mind and eyes to wander while I'm eating lunch elsewhere. This happened last week in the snack area at our school. A student at the adjacent table was hunched over in her chair, oblivious to the cacophony that characterizes the area. Her thumbs were flying over small raised buttons on a sleek electronic-looking thing cradled between her palms. I assumed it was an updated Game Boy or perhaps one of the new Play Station gizmos. On closer inspection, however, I recognized that it was one of the new "something-berry" all-in-one wireless devices, providing telephone service, Internet browser, email, calendars ≥ the whole enchilada. The thought of that last word made my newly herbivorous stomach growl.

    As luck would have it, the student turned and caught me looking, red-handed, as I absentmindedly put a tomato slice in my mouth. "Sorry," I stumbled. "Is that one of those ... berry things?" Her head nodded in the affirmative. "You obviously like using it. Looked like you were in a trance," I continued for some reason.

    "No kidding. I'm addicted to my 'crackberry,'" was the reply. "First thing in the morning, I check it for messages, then during lunch, and last thing at night. It's great."

    "So, it does email?" I asked, trying to sound at least semi-informed.

    "Yeah, but I'm really hooked on IM ... instant messaging." She said the last two words slowly, looking for some sign of recognition on my face. "See?" she said, holding the thing out so I could view the screen containing her outgoing message. All I saw was "IDK. WAM, PRW," and my eyes fogged over. There wasn't a complete word anywhere in sight.

    "Ah, I don't know ...," I stammered.

    "Right, you're on to it!" she replied with a bit of a spark.

    "No, I mean ... I don't know."

    "That's right. Try the next ones," came the reply. Clearly, I was trapped in a time warp of "Who's on First," and my only way out was to fake choking on a tomato slice and exit stage left.

    What does this have to do with abbrevs and science? Unfortunately, way too much. I've noticed over the past decade that it is hard to find a scientific article or book chapter lacking an abundance of abbreviations, which I affectionately call abbrevs. Personally, I find many of them irksome, especially if my primary reason for reading an article is to glean the main message from the discussion section or if I really only want to read the treatment section of a book chapter on a specific disease. I flip to where I need to be, only to find abbrevs I've never seen before in my life—several of them ... right there in the middle of important sentences. My only recourse is to flip back through the pages, scanning everywhere to find where each abbrev was defined, and then go back to the part I wanted to read and try to make sense of things. I suggest that we have more than enough well-established abbreviations that we all instantly recognize, such as CBC, PCV, ECG, BID, DDF, EPM, NSAID, MRLS, and EIPH, to list only a few. In fact, we likely have a couple hundred very good ones. I propose that we use the ones we all recognize instantly and resist the temptation to create new ones.

    Just to make sure you don't think I'm the only one, or the first, who thinks this way, please take a minute to read the following letter, dated June 1, 1981, from Dr. Dwight Bennett to the editor of JAVMA. I believe he makes the point better than I ever could.


    Dear Sir:

    I am writing to register a protest (RAP) against the growing custom (GC) of substituting capital letter abbreviations (CLA) for completely spelled out words (CSOW) in scientific papers. I find this GC to be at best mildly annoying (MA) and a real inconvenience (RI). At worst, this GC is not simply MA and an RI, but forces me either to go back through the entire paper (GBTTEP) to find out what the letters stand for or to give up in disgust (GUID).

    In addition to RingAP concerning this GC, I am curious as to the reason (CATTR) for it. Surely the use of CLA instead of CSOW does not save the writer as much time as it costs the reader to be MAed or put to a RI. Hopefully most writers really don't want their readers to GUID.

    Is it possible that the GC of substituting CLA for CSOW is somehow of advantage (OA) to the publisher of the journal (PJ)? If so, I am CATTR. Does the space saved by CLA amount to enough of a saving in publishing costs (PC) to make it O real A to the PJ to persist with the GC despite the possible RI to the reader? Surely, the last thing the PJ wants is for the MAed reader to GUID.

    I am really serious in RingAP against CLA for CSOW and would be grateful for any justification or explanation. Perhaps there are good reasons which have not occurred to me, and knowing these might even reduce the chance of my being MA by the RI. Or maybe I can start a movement which will reverse this vile GC and reduce or even eliminate the RI, GingBTTEP, and GingUID caused by substituting CLA for CSOW.

    (Reprinted with permission from JAVMA 178[11]:1123-1126, 1981.)

    NEXT: Therapeutics in Practice: "Treating Foal Pneumonia"