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Communicating in acronyms

By Dorothy Lozowski, Editor in Chief |

 Language evolves. As the needs of the users change, language adapts to meet those needs. One way to adapt is to add new words. “Selfie,” for example, now a well-known word, has only been in popular use for a few years. Additional examples of new words come to mind rather quickly, such as emoji, and photobomb; and some old words have taken on new meaning — for example, tweet.

The popularity of texting (itself a rather recent word, shortened from text messaging) has brought with it a seemingly whole new language — the abbreviated word form of acronyms. There are numerous resources online to help those of us who are not regular “texters” to sort through the maze of acronyms such as AFK, BRB and TTYL (away from keyboard, be right back, talk to you later).

But acronyms are not new. When a group of words is used often, whether in personal communications or in business, we find ways to shorten it. Some acronyms were in common use long before technology allowed for the popularity of texting, such as FYI and ASAP (for your information, as soon as possible).

And in business situations, trade-specific acronyms abound. Terms like SEO (search engine optimization) may be well-known across multiple business segments, while other terms may be known only within a specific area.

 

The abbreviated CPI

In the chemical process industries (CPI), we commonly come across numerous acronyms — FEED, PSV, HAZOP, PSM, PFD, FCC and P&ID to name a few (front-end engineering and design, process safety valve, hazard and operability study, process safety management, process flow diagram, fluid catalytic cracking, and piping and instrumentation diagram). Most chemical engineers would probably recognize these acronyms and know what they mean in their industry. Others, however, may have different ideas as to what they stand for. When I type PFD into my browser, for example, the top responses are about personal flotation devices.

Even within the CPI, various sectors and experts in their fields use abbreviations that may not be immediately recognized or known to many chemical engineers. Examples might include MBBR, CCS and PSA (moving-bed biofilm reactor, carbon capture and storage, pressure swing adsorption). Sometimes meanings can become clear through context, but not always. Experts in specific subject areas are often surprised to learn that the acronyms they commonly use are not well-known to all chemical engineers, and in fact, might have a different meaning in another sector of the CPI.

Acronyms and abbreviations are great tools for fast communication. We have to keep in mind, though, that the main purpose of language is communication. If the recipient of our acronyms and abbreviations doesn’t understand them, then we have failed in that endeavor.

 

In this issue

This issue covers a broad range of topics, including mixer designs, agitator seals, petroleum refining, reliability, flame monitoring, dust hazards, cybersecurity for industrial control systems and much more. We hope you enjoy it.■

Dorothy Lozowski, Editor in Chief

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