When I started my first university teaching position I was amazed, and slightly shocked, by all the acronyms that were floating around. And I’m not just talking about those for specific organisations and processes – AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council), REF (Research Excellence Framework), but also those which stood in for perfectly serviceable everyday words – UG (undergraduate), PGR (postgraduate research student), PGT (postgraduate taught student). Last week I was even more shocked to discover that my resistance had cracked, as I caught myself writing about ECRs (early career researchers) in HEIs (Higher Education Institutions).
I’m not averse to the odd acronym if it makes things easier (BA, MA and PhD seem to work quite well!). But by using this highly specific professional jargon, we are removing ourselves from the reality of the subjects we are discussing. Much as academics complain about the managerial culture that is seeping into universities, too many of us have slipped into using the language it brings with it. This cannot but affect the way we think.
This is not a question of being precious or elitist about language. If anything, it is the opposite. If the terms we use cannot be understood by an undergraduate, a friend in another profession or even an academic in another country, then we really need to think again.
Call it a contribution to Orwell Week, if you like…