I was talking with a friend of mine, Dr. Richard Flanagan, a psychologist and co-author of the book The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results, about his recent election to a non-profit Board of Trustees. Our discussion quickly turned to the number of new acronyms that he had heard being bandied about in his first meeting.

“I know what you mean,” I said. “I often have meetings with clients where the acronym flow becomes too fast to follow.”

So Richard told me how he solves that problem: he raises his hand and says that he is sorry that he can’t understand because he is “dysacronymic.”

“Most people at first express their sympathy, even though they don’t know what ‘dysacronymic’ means.”

So he explains:

“I coined the term “Dysacronymic” to mean confused by or unable to understand acronyms, an impairment in the ability to understand or interpret acronyms. I use the term especially in new settings where internal acronyms are bandied about: any company, government agency, or technology group being prime offenders, but all human systems seem to be afflicted with shortcuts assumed to be known and understood by all. I guess we also need a diagnostic term and description for human systems that are overburdened or blessed with many acronyms – maybe hyper-acronymic systems!”

“After I use it I always confess to making up the term and meaning no offense and then request acronym interpretation or explanation. Very often others express gratitude for the intervention – even insiders sometimes don’t know the meanings but don’t want to look bad by asking. I have found that sometimes the acronym users themselves can’t explain them very well and have often forgotten the exact terms that the letters stand for.”

The project management and project portfolio management fields are loaded with acronyms; this page from Project Management Knowledge lists 87 project management related acronyms. And, of course, many acronyms have multiple meanings. Our Data Machines website gets hits from people searching for information about “parts per million” as it shares the same acronym as “project portfolio management” (PPM).

Richard told me that he is planning to write up a “clinical” description that “will follow the DSM-IV diagnostic descriptions model.” For those of you like Richard and me, who are dysacronymic, DSM is the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” of the American Psychiatric Association.”

So, are you dysacronymic, too? If you are, thanks to Dr. Flanagan, at least now we’ll have a clinical diagnostic model to point to that explains our affliction.

But does anybody have any cures?

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