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St Louis is Saint Louis, not Street Louis.

Summary: When I was a young man ploughing my way through the rich soil of the English language like a diligent apprentice farmer, it was the abbreviation that was generally in use

By Marwan Asmar, Special to Gulf News,Thinker

Because it's now taken for granted that there are, at least, two kinds of English (American English and British English), copy editors and proofreaders will sometimes find themselves trapped on the horns of a dilemma, as it were, when it comes to punctuating abbreviations. Should Doctor be shortened to Dr (without a full stop, or should it be written thus: Dr.)? Either way is right, mind you. It just depends on where (or in which country) the copy editing is taking place, that's all.

The rule in American English is that if an abbreviation consists of the first and last letters of that word, then one places a 'period, or full stop' after the word is shortened. So, Doctor in America is Dr. Ditto with Mrs. and the short form for street is (St.) which, because English aims also to be confusing, might also be the abbreviation for saint!

And then, if an abbreviation consists of only the primary part of a word, then again one affixes a full stop at the end. Thus, October is written as Oct with a full stop after it (Oct.) The same for November, Monday and Sunday.

Acronyms, however, are different from abbreviations. They are 'words formed from the initial letters and are pronounced as they are spelled, not as separate letters', according to Oxford Dictionaries dot com. So, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, as we know it, is 'acronymised' (if that is even a word?) to Nato and, again as we know, is pronounced (Nay-toe). The same with 'subscriber identification module', which we all know more familiarly as the Sim (card), and in fact very few actually know it by its expanded form.

When I was a young man ploughing my way through the rich soil of the English language like a diligent apprentice farmer, it was the abbreviation that was generally in use. Even back then, we were searching for ways to make things easier for ourselves, by shortening words. I got to truly appreciate the value of the abbreviation as I grew older and entered the world of spy novels, depicting treacherous 'crossings and double crossings' during the Cold War era in East and West Germany. It was here that I encountered terms such as 'generaloberstabsveterinar' and 'festungswerkmeister' and was rather thankful for the more moderate English words that required abbreviating.

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Today, with the internet and social media abuzz, it's the evolved world of the acronym more than the abbreviation that one has moved into. A good old friend of mine in India says she can no longer understand her son in Australia, or his children, who are teenagers now. "They speak and write another language," she said, recently, when on a visit to Sydney, adding, "OMG, it's all LOL and IMHO and LMAO, all of which I had to ask to have explained, or I'd never have understood what they were trying to tell me."

Turns out, rather amusingly as she tells it, that even her son, who prides himself on being 'with the times' returned home from office just the other day with an anecdote that cracked his children up and literally had them ROFL.

It transpired that on this day in the office, he'd walked past his boss's private assistant's door and, glancing at her whiteboard on the wall noted that she'd written in red marker on two separate lines: 'F'up John's work', and 'J's memo f'd up.'

He couldn't believe his eyes! He knew, of course that John was their boss. So, biding his time, choosing his moment, he approached the personal assistant and pointed out that she may have made a glaring error, and did she want to erase the evidence before John himself came along?

Laughing hilariously, the assistant showed him an email from John himself to her, instructing, 'F'up my memo please, Karen.'

Swivelling around in her computer chair, fixing him with a mischievous grin, she said, 'It's short for follow-up, Nick. Whatever did you think it was, eh?'

Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Nov 22, 2017
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