Acronyms Are No Better Than Gang Symbols

Angela Flashing a Hand Sign

Angela warns me she has a piece on her side.

The other day I was taking pictures of Angela and wanted to get one of her tiny hand. When I looked at the photos I captured, I noticed this one seems to indicate she was giving me a hand sign of some sort.

Was she trying to rally me to victory or prompt me for peace? According to Wikipedia regarding the V-Sign, she may have even been trying to give me the finger if we were living in the U.K.

Perhaps she was trying to tell me that she wanted to listen to Loverboy’s ‘Get Lucky‘ album. It’s doubtful she knows what any of those things are.

It’s possible she was telling me she had a gun on her side or even that she was a member of the Deuces gang.  She can barely roll on her side let alone strap a gat to it and the only thing she might know about a deuce is something she generally doesn’t need to tell us about. We already know.

This made me think about acronyms in the workplace.  Acronyms are often misunderstood since they almost always have more than one meaning. In this regard, they are like making a hand gesture that has different meaning in various cultural contexts.

What makes this worse are acronyms used within a company that also have common use outside the company and mean quite different things.  If you are new, then maybe you feel confused because the context tells you something needs to be explored. That’s the best case scenario.  The worst case is that you think you know what it means and take some action that is inappropriate.

I once heard of a story where an individual was told to put some data files on ‘the FTP server’ at a company he started at.  Apparently, at that company, in this context , FTP did not mean ‘File Transfer Protocol’ but ‘Financial Transaction Pre-processor’ or something similar. It turns out that the FTP server he put the files on was really supposed to receive files that had gone through this pre-processor where some other process would pick the files up and deal with them.

Without getting into even more boring technical details, I will summarize by saying this ended up being a very bad thing. It was the white collar equivalent of flashing the wrong gang symbol in the wrong alley.

What are the best stories resulting from misunderstood acronyms that you have?

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