Katy Guest: Mumsnetters have a code, and they are not alone, BTW

 

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Look away now, all of you who thought that SMOG was an acronym for a society of geeks called the Secret Masters of Gaming.

In the latest despatch from Mumsnet, it turned out last week that SMOG is code for Smug Mothers of Only Daughters, and is used by DMOBs (Defensive Mothers of Boys) who believe that their boisterous children are being sniffed at. Wow. I mean, as in gosh, not as in World of Warcraft, or Wider Opportunities for Women, although the latter might be interested in this latest shorthand for rubbish women. What have mothers done wrong this time?

Apparently, some DMOBs believe that SMOGs openly think their girl children are far superior to boys. This is because they learn to talk sooner, are more easily potty trained, are made of sugar and spice and all things nice, and look ever so dear in a Disney princess costume. I'm going to surprise you today and body swerve the bit about how all the girls have the smugness knocked out of them, because this week we are going to talk acronyms. OK?

Most of the familiar acronyms about women tend not to be very flattering, of course. Calling someone a MILF (or Mother I'd Like to become better acquainted with, for the purposes of a family newspaper) is ostensibly a compliment, but has creepy undertones and implies that most Ms are really beyond any F-ing any more. It also makes it very difficult for those who study acts of terrorism by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. WAG was invented as a way of packaging all footballers' wives and girlfriends into one big Gucci handbag, and dismissing them as gold-digging airheads who would sell their souls for a pink diamond and a pair of Jimmy Choos. Which many of them turned out to be. A DUFF, I am told, is the Designated Ugly Fat Friend who can be found in any group of pretty girls, and the boy who goes home with her is the silly duffer.

They were always fond of acronyms in the RAF and the WRAF, and military personnel have been creative with them. The Oxford English Dictionary cites 1944 as the first use of FUBAR, meaning Fouled Up Beyond All Repair/Recognition, and SNAFU was commonly used, meaning Situation Normal, All Fouled Up. Since the Second World War we've encountered such historically specific acronyms as NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), YUPPIE (Young, Upwardly-Mobile Professional), DINKY (Double Income No Kids Yet) and retired parents going on SKI-ing holidays (Spending the Kids' Inheritance).

Obfuscatory acronyms have long been used by doctors who like to sneer at their patients between themselves while appearing to be caring and professional. NFN was apparently written on GPs' notes to denote being Normal for Norfolk, and now TATT is shorthand for a patient whose only symptom is being Tired all the Time. But it is IT professionals who have been the most creative with acronyms more recently. RTFM might be techies' advice on a really stupid IT question, and directs the client to Read the Flipping Manual. TWAIN is otherwise known as Technology Without an Interesting Name. And many computer failures apparently receive a PEBKAC diagnosis: Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair.

Since acronyms are designed to create brevity and clarity in language, it is intriguing when they become words in themselves which are then expanded and conjugated for fun. In years to come, the OED may cite Caitlin Moran's How To Be A Woman as the first official use of "rofling", from the online shorthand ROFL, meaning Rolling On Floor Laughing.

Lovers of language will never settle for simple terms when playing with words can offer so much rofflement, but we must be sparing with the TLAs (Three-Letter Acronyms) and ETLAs (Extended Three-Letter Acronyms), because everything can be cheapened by overuse. As well as Smug Mothers of Girls and Sudden Moments of Gayness, a SMOG also stands for a Simplified Measure of Gobbledegook, which is what some acronyms have started to become.

If we're not thrifty with the acronyms then we'll have to create some kind of Credited, Registered Acronym Police to prevent a complete outbreak of CHAOS (Chronic Habitual Acronym Overuse Sydrome), which, BTW, is a slippery slope. Too much of that and society will be FUBAR, FYI.

Some great passions are more fun on your own

The latest adverts for the Amazon Kindle show all the fun that an e-reader can be: groovy young people throw one around in the pub; a couple curls up with one on a leather sofa; a baby spills cereal all over another. There's one spilling out of the basket of a bicycle; another in a jeans back pocket; and yet another gets licked by a big ugly dog .... It seems that e-reader owners are doing everything to them but reading on them.

It's hard for television to demonstrate the fun of reading; after all, part of the joy of it is that you don't have to do anything for hours at a time. The film Sylvia famously struggled with showing writing, too, ending up with Daniel Craig and Gwyneth Paltrow, as Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, typing to soaring music with dreamy faces and intense frowns. Reading and writing are solitary pleasures, much more fun to do than watch.

Last week, the Chicago Tribune suggested that traditional publishers need to club together to advertise the paper book if they want the medium to survive. An ad for books would be an interesting challenge, but my first tip would be to cut the slobbery dogs.

Boffins – it's the way they tell 'em

In my physicist boyfriend's favourite joke, a mathematician, a physicist and a biologist are on a train that crosses the Scottish border. The biologist sees a sheep and says, "Look – all Scottish sheep are black!" The physicist says, "No, all we can say is one Scottish sheep is black." The mathematician disagrees: "The most we can say is that half of one Scottish sheep is black." I thought of this when I read about the Swedish man who tried to split the atom on his kitchen stove. After the stove exploded, the head of the Radiation Safety Authority was asked if the amateur scientist could have succeeded in creating nuclear fission. "Not with what we found," he said, "but we are not finished with all the measurements yet."

The sun's out, so why am I cold?

Getting dressed for work has always been a precarious science, but increasing numbers of people are beginning to find that they also have to remember to bring an extra jumper. The people who set the temperature in office buildings must all come into work in swish, air-conditioned cars, because the temperature in most offices through the summer months always seems to be set to "Baltic". Those of us who come in on foot or by public transport are obliged to dress for the prevailing weather on the way to and from work, so when we arrive we find that we are goose pimplingly under-dressed. I'm not saying that it's better to sweat at your desk, but it would save money, fossil fuels and many people from potential frostbite if the air-con were not switched up to 11 all summer.

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