This is a guest post from Chips Mackinolty, an artist and journalist based variously in Alice Springs, Palermo and Darwin 

There’s an old (and true) story that with the transition of the Darwin Community College, initially as a campus of a Queensland university, a group of good and wise administrators decided on a particular name for this new institution. For at least three weeks they were going around with the new title until they handed it over to graphic designer who told them “You can’t call it this!”

It was only then they saw what the initialism spelt out, that they realised they couldn’t call the new seat of higher learning the “College of the University of the Northern Territory”.

So what is it with these stupid acronyms invented by bureaucrats and politicians?

Take the one that has been dominating the media for months. The National Energy Guarantee. The NEG? No wonder Mr Turnbull and Josh Frydenberg were having trouble selling something so, well, negative. And of course in his regular flip flops in recent weeks the headline writers were having great fun with the notion of reneging on the NEG.

Then there’s the North Australian Infrastructure Fund, which according to then-Minister Canavan has “got a clear objective in the act to help stimulate economic and population growth in Northern Australia”. Call me naïve, but NAIF? With a name like that, little wonder the population of northern Australia continues to languish.

Of course acronyms and initialisms surround us all, and get thrown around with abandon in private and public life—not least as a form of obscure jargon within particular specialties or areas of expertise, especially in the sciences.

In my current game within the health research world, I find myself regularly having to google acronyms to try and work out what on earth we are talking about. At a recent AHRA* meeting, not knowing what ACTA was, I googled and got Australian Clay Target Association. WTF?

The second entry got me the Australian Clinical Trials Association which made more sense—though on that single page there was also the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, Animal Control Technologies Australia and the real doozy: the Australian Council of TESOL Associations. I leave it to you to work out what TESOL stands for.

There are acronym-generating sites on the internet, so the level of acronym invention and use will only escalate, presumably according to some sort of linguistic Moore’s Law. There’s no way to stop it, short of establishing, as an old New Yorker cartoon had it, of a street march behind the banner of COCA, the Coalition Opposing Contrived Acronyms.

I shouldn’t talk. I work for an organisation called CA AHSC.

See you next Thursday.

* The Australian Health Research Alliance

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