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The Story Behind LOL, OMG, and BFF

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Robert Lane Greene, an international correspondent for The Economist, has a piece in the Autumn issue of Intelligent Life magazine called OMG, ETC.

He asks, "When, in fact, did we start talking in acronyms, and why?"

The answer is, earlier than most of us think. As for the why, it seems to be exactly what you'd think: convenience.

It wasn't upon the introduction of AOL's Instant Messenger or after the first-ever mobile phone text message was sent by engineer Neil Papworth to Richard Jarvis, on the Vodafone network (it said, simply, "Merry Christmas" which has not yet been reduced down to a sleeker MCh).

Greene asserts that "the armed forces have much to do with it." He quotes linguist David Wilton, who maintains that WWI was the point at which acronyms became part of the language, with AWOL (absent without leave) being the "definitive" first example.

More people referred to Franklin Delano Roosevelt as FDR than not and the Works Progress Administration would likely elicit a confused look from most these days, while they'd probably be able to identify the WPA, if asked.

Greene says acronyms were "tempting to government planners in the chaotic world of the mid-20th century. Enter the FBI to police the country, the CIA to spy on others, and the SEC to wrestle with financial markets."

And, speaking of the financial markets, the business world, as Greene points out, is a "long-standing source of acronymy."

The National Biscuit Company is known as Nabisco. Then, there's Texaco, Conoco, and Sunoco, not to mention IBM, GE, and AT&T (when's the last time you used a telegraph?). Chicken lovers the world over know KFC. Even the French have their own version of LOL (which a friend's mother thought meant "Lots of Love," resulting in a bit of confusion when she signed off a message that his aunt had passed away with LOL. True story.).

Yes, LOL in French is MDR, or, "mort de rire," which means “dead from laughing”.

The Gauls do have us Yanks beat on one acronym. While we may have CUL8R for "see you later," they've got OQP, for  occupé, or “busy”.

We'll catch up. Some Freedom Fry-eater will one-up the cheese-eating surrender monkeys, I'm sure.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.