Saturday, February 18, 2017

Still Life with Robin: Bad Abbreviations

by Peggy Robin

DMV is the worst. It’s really too late to take a stand against it, though; unfortunately, it’s here to stay. But think about it: The M for Maryland and the V for Virginia give our two neighboring states equal status to our own District of Columbia, even though only three of the 24 counties in Maryland (Montgomery County, PG County, Howard County) and four of the 95 in Virginia (Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William) should count. If we’re going to use an abbreviation for the jurisdictions involved, it should actually go something like this: DMPGHALFPW. You could turn it into an acronym by pronouncing it: Dimp-Guh-Half-Pew. That would take in just about everyone in the metro area, and there’s no confusion with the abbreviation for Department of Motor Vehicles, and it’s just one syllable longer than Dee-Em-Vee. But I concede that it’s never going to happen.

Then there’s “Demo.” I’ve been mulling that one over ever since I ran across a listserv post (sorry, I can’t remember which listserv, though I tried and failed to retrieve it on an internet search) when it appeared in the subject line of message concerned with neighbors’ objections to the proposed tear-down of a free-standing garage. Something about a “demo” being planned....but  I couldn’t tell whether the abbreviated form referred to a demonstration – a show of support to preserve the garage – or the demolition of the garage itself. At least it wasn’t a “Demo about the Demo.”

It’s bad enough when an abbreviation can stand for two things at once. Then there’s a shift that occurs when a perfectly innocuous abbreviation picks up an association with a bad thing – which we’ve seen just this past week with LOL. We all know what that stands for: “Laughing Out Loud.” Those of us who grew up in the pre-Internet age had to un-learn it as an abbreviation for “Little Old Lady.” But just a few days ago, a woman wearing a long-sleeve T-shirt emblazoned with those letters was arrested for the murder of Kim Jong-nam, the exiled half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. The murder weapon, it is alleged, was a bottle of spray poison. The story is that she sneaked up on him at the airport in Kuala Lumpur and sprayed a lethal dose of poison in his face. There’s video footage of her earlier in the day, strolling through the airport, instantly identifiable by the large black lettering, LOL on her white shirt. And now someone’s been marketing the that shirt on a Chinese website for over $900 – see

I've also read that she has an alibi: She thought she'd been hired by a reality TV show to participate in a prank by spraying water in the face of an unsuspecting man. She had no idea --the story goes -- that there was poison in the spray-bottle. If that turns out to be true, then she’s not really a murderer. Whatever she is in (not-for-TV) reality, you will now discover when you start to enter the abbreviation “LOL” into Google, the first thing that comes up is “LOL killer” and the second thing is “LOL assassin.” That’s quite a shift in association….and a long, long way from Little Old Lady.

So here’s my question: How many different meanings can you now derive from this short sentence? LOL at DMV demo!


Still Life with Robin (abbreviated as SLw/R) is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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