October 18:  TLA Day

WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

On this day in 1922 the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) was formed.  In its almost one hundred years as the United Kingdom’s public-service broadcast service on both radio and television, it has been responsible for propagating what is known as Received Pronunciation.

What the printing press did for making written English standard, the BBC has done for making spoken British English standard.  With a variety of regional dialects of English in the United Kingdom, the BBC created an Advisory Committee on Spoken English in 1926 to explore and establish the best forms of pronunciation among competing usages.  The influence and popularity of BBC broadcasts, especially during World War II, established the English spoken on air as the “correct” way to speak English.  This Received Pronunciation goes by several names:  “Standard English,” “the Queen’s English,” “Oxford English,” “Public School English,” or “BBC English.”

BBC.svg“BBC” is an example of a three-letter abbreviation (TLA), the common method in English of condensing language to save time and space.  Whether it’s the name of corporations (IBM), politicians (JFK), computer terms (CPU), agencies (CIA), countries (UAE), or text messaging (LOL), TLAs continue to be ALR (all the rage).

One distinction should be made in regard to two key terms associated with abbreviations:  acronyms and initialisms.

An abbreviation is the general term for any shortened form of a word or phrase, such as Oct. for October.

An acronym is a specific type of abbreviation in which the first letters of words are combined to form a word, as in RAM (Random Access Memory).

An initialism is another specific type of abbreviation in which the first letter of words are combined as upper case letters with each letter pronounced as an individual letter, as in FBI = “F” – “B” – “I.”

As you examine examples of TLAs, you will discover that the vast majority fit in the category of initialisms.  Many are familiar.  Look at the gaggle of TLAs below to see which ones you recognize, and use a good dictionary to look up the ones you don’t.

ABC, AKA, BCS, CBS, CEO, CIA, CNN, CPA, CPU, DNA, DVD, EKG, FAQ, FYI, HIV, IBM, IOU, IRA, LCD, LDS, MLB, NBA, NBC, NFL, NHL, NYU, POW, SAT, SDI, UFO, VHS, WWW

TLAs harness the Rule of Three (ROT), a powerful principle in writing that recognizes that there seems to be something special, maybe even magical, about things in three.  There’s nothing new about this principle.  In Latin it was stated as Omne trium perfectum, or “everything that comes in threes is perfect.”  Likewise, the French motto “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” demonstrates the brevity, rhythm, and balance of a tried and true trio.

Today’s Challenge:  Three-peat After Me

What is a three-word motto that you would use to sum up a principle for success in life, whether at work, at school, at home, or some other aspect of human endeavor?  Brainstorm some original mottos and sum them up with a TLA.  For example, in the film Glengarry Glen Ross (1984), the motto for success in selling real estate is ABC = “Always Be Closing.”  To prime the pump here are a few other example mottos:

Be the change (BTC)

Dream, believe, achieve (DBA)

Just do it (JDI)

Pain is gain (PIG)

Love conquers all (LCA)

Keep it simple (KIS)

Quitters aren’t winners (QAW) (2)

Once you’ve settled on your TLA motto, write a short motivational message in which you explain what it means, using appropriate examples and anecdotes to illustrate why it is a motto worth remembering and how it will help the audience achieve success. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-Crystal, David.  Evolving English.  London:  British Library, 2010: 57.

2-Samuel, Victory. 199 Three-Word Phrases That Will Make You a Better Person. Thought Catalog 10 Mar. 2015.

October 17:  Coin a Word Day

WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

On this day in 2005, comedian and television personality Stephen Colbert unveiled a new word: truthiness (1).

On this night’s show the irony was especially thick, however, because as it turned out truthiness was not a new coinage after all.  As pointed out on the language website Language Log, the word dates back to 1824 according to the Oxford English Dictionary (2).

Even though Colbert cannot claim credit for coining the word, he can claim to have popularized it.  In fact, he got the last laugh on the “wordanistas” when The American Dialect Society selected truthiness as its Word of the Year in 2005.

New words, also known as neologisms, are popping up more than ever in the age of technology and the internet.  So many newly minted words are appearing, in fact that there are entire websites devoted to tracking neologisms.  One such site is Word Spy, where visitors can witness the genesis and evolution of words before their very eyes.  The words at Word Spy are not in the dictionary; instead, they are mere candidates for the big lexicographical show.  If they catch on and are used by real people, especially in written communication, they may make it from Word Spy to Webster’s.

One of the oldest sources of new word coinages comes under Johnson’s second category.  It’s a special kind of compound word called a kenning – a figurative compound word construction.  In the Old English poem Beowulf, for example, a “ship” becomes a “sea-steed” and the “sea” becomes the “whale-road.”  Although kennings are a very old form, they represent one of the most vibrant and playful aspects of our language, an aspect that we see alive in our language today in the following examples:

Hot potato = something no one wants

Rug rat = toddler or crawling baby

Tree hugger = an environmentalist

Bookworm = someone who reads a lot

Pig-skin = a football

Gas-guzzler = a car with poor gas mileage (3)

Notice that characteristic of a kenning, each example above is made up of two words to form a compound word. Furthermore, each kenning makes no direct reference to the person or thing it is naming; instead, each relies on a figurative comparison.  Each kenning, therefore, is a beautifully packaged compact metaphor.

Today’s Challenge: Coin a Kenning

What new two-word figurative combination would you use to rename a noun, such as a pencil, a Post-it Note, a teacher, a bank, or cat?  Play around with words by creating some of your own kennings.  Pick a noun and brainstorm some ideas. Remember, to qualify as a kenning your compound must be figurative, so avoid directly naming the person or thing you’re renaming.  A pencil, for example, might be a word-wand, a thought twig, or a sentence stick.  Once you have a few ideas, pick your best one, and begin actually using it in conversation. This will be the true test of whether or not it resonates and packs a powerful enough punch to be picked up by real people. (Common Core Reading 4)

1-This Day in Quotes.com. True or False: Stephen Colbert Coined the Word ‘Truthiness’? 17 Oct. 2012.

2-Zimmer, Benjamin. Truthiness or Trustiness? Language Log 26 Oct. 2005. .

3-Your Dictionary.com. Examples of Kenning.