In the rush to make yet one more deadline and fit in ever more in our busy schedules, using shortcuts in our writing can be tempting, and once they gain traction, their use can spread like wildfire.
But not so fast. Many shortcuts can be questionable, poorly thought out or just plain wrong. Before you jump on the bandwagon and begin using, for example, “intel” as an abbreviation for “intelligence,” check this usage in a reputable resource. Even though an abbreviation may be commonly used, if it’s not listed in a guide like a dictionary or stylebook, it’s usually too early to start using this term in formal writing, or its use is considered erroneous by the broader language community.
In my role as editor, I frequently come across problems related to these terms, and below are some abbreviations, misnomers and slang words that I have seen come up in the news lately along with some oldies but goodies that remain rampant in the world of marketing and communication. Do you use any of the ones below in your writing?
Using “spill” to describe the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The use of “spill” (see the headline of this special section in the New York Times) to refer to what happened in the gulf this summer is not only inaccurate, it’s insulting. First, in terms of accuracy, “spill” is objectionable because nothing spilled out of a container. The reserve of oil below the sea floor is not a tanker. But second and more importantly, “spill” is a careless and degrading euphemism that downplays the catastrophe by suggesting there was a finite amount of oil that was spilled. The word “leak” isn’t much more accurate either. A leak is usually minor and can be fixed by a patch or by turning off the source. But what happened in the gulf – a gaping hole with oil gushing out – is more properly termed a “rupture.” And this is the better term to use to refer to the BP disaster.
Using “creative” as a noun. As common and accepted as this word has become, it’s not a noun and shouldn’t be used as one (see the first sentence of the third paragraph of this Advertising Age article) when “creativity” is already a perfectly good noun to use: Company XYZ is renowned for its original thinking and strong creativity.
Using “marcom” as an abbreviation for “marketing communications.” This combination is jargon that should be confined to informal situations (see the middle of the second paragraph of this Brandweek article). Otherwise, there is no reason not to spell out these two words.
Using “spend” as a noun. This is a slang abbreviation for “spending” that is chiefly used in British and, more commonly, in Australian English (see the second-to-last sentence in the second paragraph of this news release). There is no reason to use this word in place of “spending.” Not only is it slang, but it can easily be confused with the verb form of “spend.”
Using “onboard” as a verb. As tempting as it may be to use this as a verb, don’t. There are several verbs that can be put into service to convey the idea of “bringing someone onboard”: orient, assimilate or introduce. And, if you must, the phrase “bring onboard” could even be used. But “onboard” itself is an adjective or adverb and should not try to be pressed into service as a verb.
Using “B2B” as an abbreviation for “business-to-business.” Y r u going 2 the show? Is this the way you would write “Why are you going to the show?” in any serious communication? This is why “B2B” shouldn’t be used (see the headline of this Minneapolis Star Tribune article). Business-to-business transactions are “business-to-business” or “B-to-B”transactions. In proper English, symbols shouldn’t be used in place of words except in cases in which they’re universally understood, such as figures for numbers, % for percent, or $ for dollar.
Using a slash in place of “and.” This punctuation mark/device has become/turned into a catchall/all-purpose way to convey “and” or “or” that careful writers will stamp out of their work. It tells readers that writers are unsure of what they want to say, and it leaves it up to readers to choose whether the slash means “or,” “and,” or “both.” For example, the sentence “This e-mail should be forwarded to account managers and/or their team members” may mean that the e-mail can be forwarded to both account managers and team members or only one or the other. Because in most cases the slash can be replaced by a perfectly good word such as “and” (as in this headline), this punctuation mark should be one of last resort because its use leaves room for misunderstanding and misinterpretation.
Using ampersands in place of “and.” In many cases, using an ampersand is similar to parking in a space reserved for the handicapped when you need to run inside a store for a quick visit and not many cars are around: It’s quick and convenient to do, but it’s also wrong. Ampersands should generally only be used when they’re part of a company’s name or the title of a work of art: AT&T, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble. However, many writers have a tendency to unconsciously resort to them when they write two terms that are closely related, such as sales and marketing, research and development, CEO and president, etc. Be on guard against letting this creep into your writing, and avoid using that handicapped space for a quick errand.
Do you see these shortcuts used much, or do you use any yourself?
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