Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: March 30, 2022, 6:59 a.m. Humanist 35.624 - acronyms problematic?

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 624.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
                Submit to:

        Date: 2022-03-29 05:34:32+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: acronyms

Acronyms are handy, economical, useful for avoding repetition of some
phrase that in the repetition begins to lose meaning anyhow. But they
can also exclude outsiders and in their common usage slip from
abbreviation to a lexical item that hides its origins. 

There are many perfectly innocent examples legible to insiders 
but puzzle those not in the know. This can be a problem if, for example, 
there would be value (as often the case) in attracting outsiders. I 
come across many announcements of potential interest if not great value 
to members of Humanist that require me to do a fair bit of looking to figure 
out what the acronyms mean. I cannot help but think that these 
announcements are (in all likelihood unintentionally) carrying the 
subliminal message, "Go away, you are not wanted here".

Then there are examples of acronyms for subjects, such as 'AI', which 
are more of a problem. In the case of AI, by not spelling out 'artificial 
intelligence', the acronym becomes a lexical item of its own, with no 
'artificial' or 'intelligence' to stir one to question or think about the 
subject. 'AI' thus becomes an acronymised package which we take in, 
start talking about etc. without ever wondering what's inside. We just 
swallow the pill and start feeling the effects.

It is for this reason that 'DH' as well bothers me. I find myself wondering,
what about the 'digital', what about the 'humanities', what about their 
collision? Once upon a time, I favoured 'humanities computing' because 
the apparent oxymoron seemed a good place to start thinking about the 
subject. Isn't it the case that when you put on a uniform you become 
more identified with a group? This has its advantages, of course.


Willard McCarty,
Professor emeritus, King's College London;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist

Unsubscribe at:
List posts to:
List info and archives at at:
Listmember interface at:
Subscribe at: