funny business acronymsI was having lunch with a friend of mine the other day, and the topic of funny business acronyms came up. Why do we use and abuse them? Why do we have an obsession for creating acronyms for seemingly everything? The whole conversation got started when my friend cited a recent meeting with some Sales & Marketing leaders who were throwing around the acronym “ASP.” For those of us not in this line of work, ASP stands for “Average Sales Price.” We started to ponder why we couldn’t just say “average sales price” and if there were secret benefits to using ASP instead.

Why would it be better to use the funny business acronyms instead of just saying the whole thing?

My first theory was the based on the always popular notion in the business world that we have to save time. Maybe we just don’t have enough time to say the whole thing. If we said all three words in their entirety every time, we’d inevitably drown in a sea of verbiage, would move much slower than our competition, and soon be out of business. On second thought, our fates might not be that dire, but acronyms certainly save us time, don’t they? It made logical sense to both of us. We can say three letters instead of three words. You never know how much saved time that might amount to during a day. So being focused on empirical experimentation methodologies that would stand up to the highest academic journals, we decided to test this theory out in real time while waiting for our lunch to arrive. I decided to time myself saying “ASP” followed by timing myself saying “Average Sales Price.” Pretty impressive experimental rigor, we both agreed with requisite smirks. More importantly, lunch was taking longer than we had hoped to be delivered to us, so we needed something to do to keep us from eating our napkins. This would at least distract us for a few minutes. In our little experiment, we had to try to account for human error related to stopping and starting the timer on my cell phone as well as human bias of making sure I didn’t rig the results by inadvertently enunciating ASP with a different cadence compared with when I said the three full words. We had to take every precaution if we had any hopes of getting this study published somewhere.

Here are the staggering results:

By my calculations it took me .66 seconds to say “ASP” and a whopping 1.01 seconds to say “Average Sales Price.” We then employed a highly technical mathematical algorithm called subtraction to deduce that I would save .35 seconds every time I used the acronym over the fully stated words. Hardly compelling – and I’m not referring to the fact that we actually did this inane experiment. But what if I was in a role where I needed to say this a lot? How might this play out over the course of a day? What if I said ASP 100 times during the course of a day? I could literally shave off 35 seconds from my work day. Even less compelling and on the borderline of just plain dumb. But what if I were to say it 1,000 times during a day? Or what if I just walked around all day just saying “ASP” (stranger things have happened in the corporate world). In the former case, if my calculations were correct, I could shave off 350 seconds from my day, which meant that I would be able to leave work 5 and a half minutes whole minutes early! Unfortunately, this wasn’t the time savings results I would need to make a compelling case. In the city where I live, leaving work 5 minutes early would still leave me hopelessly drowning in rush hour traffic. Maybe brevity isn’t the reason behind why we do it.

OK so what else could be behind our obsession with acronyms?

Maybe we do it to sound hip, although the hipster crowd would probably be really offended if they found out that we thought that saying ASP made us hip. I think they’d want to take their hipster-ness far away from us. So clearly it couldn’t be that. Maybe we think we sound smarter when we use acronyms. Maybe it gives us a sense that we have a secret code that others don’t know about. What if I was in the meeting where they used ASP and I didn’t know what it meant? Would I think I was supposed to know what that meant? Would I even ask? We both theorized that people think that using these acronyms gives them credibility but we couldn’t prove our theory. So we decided to take our empirical study up a notch and do some field interviews. In our case, field interviews meant asking our waitress what she thought. When she arrived with our food, I took the opportunity to pose the hard question of the day to our unsuspecting interviewee:

“Why do you think people use acronyms – you know stuff like ASP or ERP or others – in the business world? Do you think all of us business-types do it to sound smarter?”
“LOL…” she said as she smiled and walked away.

Well we certainly didn’t get to the bottom of anything here at all. This will definitely require some further research. Unfortunately, our time to ponder this great corporate conundrum was about up. After lunch, my friend needed to head back to the office, and I needed to make sure I sent out an urgent e-mail to the ACA MSP VMS RFP team. Hey if you can’t beat them, join them. Maybe instead of figuring out the underlying psychological reasons behind why we do it, we should just make up some new ones. My first new funny business acromym will be one to describe myself now. I am an AH. That’s acronym for “acronym hypocrite” for any of you who want to shave off .35 seconds whenever you say it. Until next time, GB (good-bye).

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