Saturday, October 19, 2013

Changing Accepted Terms is Annoying "Inside Baseball"

Promulgating a new term, getting a name or acronym to become generally accepted, is often an important goal for an organization. Sometimes, the term in question constitutes an annoying exercise in branding or euphemism (think "gaming" for gambling), of course, but often, a generally accepted term is a useful addition to the collective vocabulary. Thus, it annoys me is when some insider constituency attempts to unilaterally alter the usage of a generally accepted term.

A couple of examples that I have noticed recently:

MEA is an abbreviation for the Minnesota Education Association. It is also shorthand for the two-day teacher's conference/fall break throughout the state of Minnesota. Everybody with school-age kids, or who went to school in the state, knows exactly what someone means when they say "Oh, I'm taking off next week for MEA". It's a great example of deep branding. So what does the Association do? They rename their conference to "Education Minnesota Professional Conference". Everybody still calls it "MEA".

GLBT/LGBT. Sometime in the past decade, the acronym GLBT took hold as an umbrella term, covering the overlapping concerns of Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual and Trans-gendered persons. It was actually quite an achievement to get this to become an accepted term, given both the political disagreements involved, and the lingusitic un-loveliness of the term. But it succeeded--even people with hostile to the general thrust of the GLBT "movement" would recognize, and probably even use, the term. So then, seems like a couple of years ago, those in the know suddenly starting using "LGBT". 
It's not hard to imagine this is a well-meaning nod toward equality, within a constituency that is probably extra-sensitive to anything that smacks of inequality and unfairness. But it is just too soon, and too arbitrary. What's next--BTGL? Bi-annual rotation of the letters, until all 24 permutations have been covered? This change is just too silly, and too much "inside baseball"--especially for a movement that is likely already suspected by some to be obsessed with "political correctness".
UPDATE 01/25/14: Moving toward parody, apparently the latest is "LGBTQ".
There are some techniques for evolving a publicly accepted term or brand:

  • Combine the old and new, to form a transitional compound. E.g., "MEA--Teachers' Professional Conference". 
  • Retain the initials, making them vestigal--e.g., KFC, 3M.
  • Or, if it can be pulled off, change the meaning but keep the acronym--"Minnesota Educators Annual Conference Weekend", would work as "MEA Weekend" for short..

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