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For the Army, the ABCAs of Jargon

By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 7, 2005; Page A17

Military jargon is, famously, an alphabet soup of abbreviations. Now the Department of the Army (DA) has issued guidance telling its soldiers and civilian employees how to mix the ingredients.

Army Regulation 25-52 (AR 25-52), a 12-page document published Tuesday, provides a primer on how to create, use, manage and maintain "standardized abbreviations, brevity codes and acronyms (ABCAs)" that are to be used in communications throughout the department. The existence of the document was reported yesterday by Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy, in his e-mail newsletter Secrecy News.

For those who don't know the drill, the Army document explains that an abbreviation is a shortened form of a word or phrase, such as "appt" for "appointment." A brevity code is an abridged form, normally in uppercase letters, of commonly used phrases (for example, "REFRAD means release from active duty"). And an acronym is a word manufactured from the initial letter or letters of a name or a series of words ("ASAP means as soon as possible").

The document advises the reader not to try to create any of these when the word or phrase in question has seven or fewer letters. Also, one should limit the length of abbreviations, brevity codes and acronyms "to avoid clumsiness and confusion."

And, orthographically speaking, it is generally a bad idea to adopt acronyms that form existing words or are identical to an acronym for something else.

Other helpful hints:

• Acronyms and brevity codes are normally in capital letters, whereas abbreviated words are capitalized only if the original word or phrase is.

• Acronyms should be pronounceable ("for example RSOP -- reconnaissance, selection, and occupation of position"), and their meanings should be spelled out the first time they appear in Army written communications.

• Some terms are "no longer authorized for use," including AA for antiaircraft, BW for biological warfare and JAAOC for Joint Aircraft Operations Center. So says the Quadripartite Standardization Agreement (QSTAG) between the United States, United Kingdom, Canadian and Australian armies.

The policy applies to military records, publications, correspondence, messages, operation plans, orders and reports within the Army, according to the document. The Records Management and Declassification Agency (RMDA) maintains an electronic repository of authorized abbreviations, brevity codes and acronyms at https://www2.arims.army.mil/abbreviation/mainpage.asp.

Those who can't quite decipher the policy can flip to the back of the document, where a glossary explains 17 of the abbreviations and acronyms that appear in the text.

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