Fun with Acronyms, Redux | Confessions of a Community College Dean

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A few years ago, when I just couldn’t come up with a good acronym for a program, I put out a call to my wise and worldly readers for help.  As usual, they came through.

 

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m having another lapse of literary imagination.  

 

In that spirit, below is a slightly revised version of a piece from 2018, outlining the same dilemma I’m facing today.  Any help would be greatly appreciated!  I can be reached at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com, but in this case, Twitter (@deandad) is probably more fun.  

 

 

What’s the best campus (or corporate) acronym you’ve seen?

 

I have a couple of projects that need acronyms, and I need inspiration.  

 

There’s an art to a good acronym.  Ideally, it should be pronounceable without much strain.  The old PSAT had a slash and a second acronym, based on “National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.”  “NMSQT” doesn’t really roll off the tongue.  Numsquat?  Not good.  

 

Humor can be tricky.  Brookdale used to have a faculty group tasked with working on outcomes assessment that it called the Brookdale Learning Outcome Buddies, or BLOBs.  I get what they were going for, but I refuse on principle to convene the BLOBs.  It sounds like the sort of thing that ends with a rampaging gelatinous alien getting zapped with electrical wires, as opposed to, say, a committee report.  It’s best not to confuse the two.

 

I like Assessment Task Force, or ATF, because it has a sort of strike-force sound to it.  (“Up against the wall, learning outcomes!”)  My opinion is not universally shared.

 

At Holyoke, I was proud of the General Education Assessment Committee, because GEAC lends itself to being pronounced “geek.”  Folks there patiently indulged me, but I think I was the only one who actually found it funny.  Alas.

 

It’s important to look out for unintended meanings.  At another college, I was once in a discussion of….let’s say a “program”… the acronym for which, when spoken, would have connoted a sex act rarely spoken of in polite company.  Explaining my objection during the meeting entailed an undeniably awkward moment, but it also avoided what could have been a really unfortunate bit of public relations, and an irresistible invitation to graffiti artists everywhere.  On a less extreme level, I was once in a meeting at which someone suggested an office of “Academic Support Services.”  It fell to me to point out that the acronym probably wasn’t ideal.

 

Students sometimes come up with good ones.  When TB and I visited Cornell, the tour guide mentioned that the Vegan club had dialectically generated its own antithesis, a group called Men Eating Animals Together (MEAT).  I had to tip my cap to that one.

 

When in doubt, it’s probably better to go with words with positive emotional connotations.  It’s striking when someone goes the other way.  For instance, at Brookdale we have a Director of Institutional Research and Evaluation, or DIRE.  I can’t help but think that some other combination of words or letters must have been available.

 

My favorite acronym was for a program, years ago, called Kindling Inclusionary Science, Math, Engineering, and Technology, or KISMET.  That’s just lovely.  It’s positive, clever, endearing, and specific.  It even suggests happy accidents, which is about as perfect a reference for inclusionary STEM education as there can be.  It’s somehow both humble and aspirational. 

 

Wise and worldly readers, what moments of acronym-based greatness have you seen?

 

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