The Trouble With Acronyms

The favourite musical in my household has to be The Music Man. It might be because of the catchy lyrics, it may be because of the mental image of Robert Preston (from the 1967 film adaptation) prancing around in a band uniform, it could be because my husband played the trombone and my children self-identify as band geeks. It is possibly sustained by my colleague Dino occasionally addressing me as “Marian, Madame Librarian” with his Robert Preston impression. It could even be my fond memory that the University of Alberta Library Catalogue was named “Marian” in the early 90s.

Perhaps it is this line of lyrics:

Oh, we got trouble
Right here in River City
Right here in River City
With a capital ‘T’ and that rhymes with ‘P’ and that stands for ‘pool’
That stands for pool

That lyric line came to mind this morning as I was perusing the Privy Council Office website for new Orders in Council and saw this:

2012-0064 2012-02-02 FIN
Act Financial Administration Act
Subject Canada Development Investment Corporation (CDIC) Corporate Plan 2012-2016
Precis Order approving the 2012-2016 Corporate plan of the CANADA DEVELOPMENT INVESTMENT CORPORATION.
Attachments 1-OIC / DDC

Note the Acronym CDIC.
CDIC, even if just the CDICs affiliated with or related to the Government of Canada, can mean many things:

Trouble number 1 – Acronyms are trouble when they are used without context.
Trouble number 2 – Microblogging sites are filled with Acronyms.
Trouble number 3 – Search engines optimize by location – CDIC likely means something different in California, Colorado, and the Carribean, not to mention France or Spain.

Apart from context, can you think of solutions for trouble with acronyms?


  1. It goes with saying on the administrative side. What if a file is called an acronym and when a document comes in no one knows where the file goes or has to decipher from an acronym? I agree with you, it is misleading and ineffective.

  2. What I meant to say was, for example; If government labels a file with an acronym and a document comes in and no one updated the file directory or put in a comment with what the acronym meant, than the document gets misfiled or misses a deadline. Thank you.

  3. Carlos Fernandez

    There are some legal data bases, both in France and in Spain, that seems have solve the problem through a synonyms dictionary that identifies, for instance, FIFO / First in-first out /
    1er entré-1er sorti / Premier entré-premier sorti
    , CDD / Contrat de travail à durée determiné or Normes IFRS / International financial reporting standards / Normes internationales d’information financière / Normes IAS.
    It even works with more complex concepts as Loi Aubry I / Loi 98-461 du 13 juin 1998, dite “Loi Aubry I” / Loi 98-461 du 13 juin 1998 d’orientation et d’incitation relative à la réduction du temps de travail. Together with the context, that technology provides astonishingly good results.

    See or