Monday, July 18, 2016

More than One Meaning

Has anyone else come across abbreviations that are used in more than one field or area of modern life, but mean different things?

I first noticed this in my work with nonprofit organizations. We had two different groups called CDF: the Children's Defense Fund and the Cooperative Development Foundation. Plus others called the similar-sounding CDS and the one-extra-letter NCDF. Fun conversations ensued.

Here are a few others:

SRO: I first learned this term as "standing room only" (in theater). A little later I knew it as "single room occupancy" (in housing). Now I know it also means "school resource officer," which is the euphemism for the police who try to control public schools with metal detectors and by tackling girls to the floor when they refuse to get out of their seats.

CRM: My first knowledge of this letter combination was "customer relationship management," which is a major category of software, both desktop and web-based. There are NPR sponsors like the German company SAP who offer "CRM solutions," for instance. This kind of software is used by nonprofits to track their donors and corporations to manage their sales contacts. But it also stands for the Civil Rights Movement. I don't know if they used it back in the 1960s, or if it's come into use since Twitter forced us all to get our thoughts into 140 characters.

TFA: To me, this stands for Teach for America, often referred to in social media about education reform. But suddenly in late 2015 I kept reading tweets about TFA that made no sense. Finally, I realized they were talking about Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

There's also the word "development," which in my experience means any of these:

  • fundraising for nonprofit groups
  • creating software or building websites
  • working with food co-ops to get started or add more stores to an existing co-op
  • rehabbing or constructing buildings in cities
  • the process of industrialization (or leapfrogging to post-industrialization) in economies that had been primarily based on subsistence agriculture
  • the process of a child growing up from birth to adulthood
My favorite confusion, though, is probably over the term "lead organizer," which means an organizer who leads other organizers, but could just as easily mean an organizer who works to decrease lead exposure in the environment.

Although I guess nothing can top the confusion we used to have in the printing business, which routinely ran ads for jobs with the title "stripper."


Michael Leddy said...

I can think of only one offhand: CU, which can stand for "credit unit" (teaching a college course gets you x CUs), "credit union," Champaign-Urbana, Columbia University, and (no doubt) dozens of other things.

"Lead organizer" to me suggests pencil management. :)

Daughter Number Three said...

And, of course, the CU L8R license plate.

All of these lead/lead confusions make me long for spelling reform. Seems like I never see the past tense of lead spelled led anymore.

Daughter Number Three said...

Here's another one: CMS, which to me means "content management system" (such as Blogger). But it's also the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, of course. Their web team must get really confused.

Michael Leddy said...

In Illinois state government, it's Central Management Services. I'm not sure what they do -- manage things centrally, I guess.

Daughter Number Three said...

Just remembered another one: BLM has long mean the Bureau of Land Management (which came up a lot in the Bundy building takeover in Oregon), but now it also means Black Lives Matter. There were some very confusing headlines during the Oregon standoff!

Daughter Number Three said...

This isn't an acronym, but I just remembered that the word "user" can mean either someone who uses something (like a website, as in "user testing") or someone who uses illegal drugs. Not a good pair to confuse.