acronyms

Quiz Time

By Donna Heron, Region 3

Can you figure out the meaning of the sentence below … without doing some research?

The RPM checked CERCLIS to see what year the RI/FS, the PRAP and the ROD were completed at the NPL site.

Trying to read a document or email filled with unfamiliar acronyms is like trying to read an unknown foreign language. First you have to translate, then you have to go back and read it again before you can figure out what the writer was trying to say. Acronyms, however, are useful conveniences. They save space, they same time and they have been around since before the Roman Empire.

Over time, acronyms can also turn into everyday words with no one remembering what those letters originally stood for, such as: radar (Radio Detection and Ranging), scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) and lasar (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation). And, to make matters worse, some people pronounce the acronyms by saying the letters, like N-P-D-E-S, whereas other people pronounce them like they would sound if they were a word, like Nip-dees. Is your head spinning?

The federal government is often blamed for the proliferation of acronyms. But, there has been a plain language movement in the federal government. Starting with President Nixon, many presidents have issued rules and orders to write in plain language, to make regulations less bureaucratic. On October 13, 2010, President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010. The law requires that federal agencies use “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use.”

We’re trying. We know that besides the public having problems understanding government-eze, our new employees also have problems.

So, where can you go to figure it all out?

Go to EPA’s home page (www.epa.gov). About half way down the page, on the left side under the map, you’ll see “More Resources.” The third item down in light blue type is “Glossary, Acronyms.” Click there.

Or, type the acronym into an EPA search box.

Or, go to your favorite search engine, type in the acronym and epa.

That should do it!

About the Author: Donna Heron started her career with EPA in 1999 after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter in the Philadelphia area for many years. She works in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region as a Press Officer providing information to the media on RCRA cleanups, pesticides, TRI, NEPA, wetlands and sustainability.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Zen And The Art Of Dumbing Down Your Prose

By Amy Miller

This is a blog post about blogging. Really, it’s about writing, and specifically about communicating better when you are an expert, or at least more of an expert than your audience. Often I am accused of dumbing down the copy of others who know more than I do.

So be it. If dumbing down makes a document more readable, then I am happy to be that person.

The Environmental Protection Agency is filled with technical people – lawyers, scientists, strategists and bureaucrats – who must write on a daily basis. Each group has words they use relentlessly that the rest of us don’t really understand. After 13 years here I still don’t catch all the meanings.

So I have come up with a list of words that are not to be used. They are insider jargon, or unnecessarily long words, or just plain ugly.

Here are a few words that the environmental people use a lot:

  • Stakeholder
  • Partnership
  • Remediation
  • Environmental justice
  • Brownfields
  • Best management practices
  • Integrated pest control

And here are some unnecessarily long or ugly words (and the short words that can replace them) that many people use a lot:

  • utilize – use
  • currently – now
  • possess – have
  • however – but
  • for the purpose of – for
  • Initiate – start
  • Terminate – end
  • Facilitate – help
  • Interface – meet? Talk to?
  • Relocate – move
  • Retain – keep

Acronyms, by the way, make ugly words look pretty. There are about a million of them, but only a few we should ever use — the ones that we know better as initials than spelled out. For instance, FBI, IBM, CBS and NASA.

In one summary of a legal case being brought by the EPA I found these acronyms: MMR, SDWA, STAPP, EPA, MANG, RCRA, NGB, AO2, RLALAT and OMMP .

I’m an EPA employee and I know only four of these.

By the way the federal government backs me up.

President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010, which requires federal agencies to use “clear government communication that the public can understand and use.” A subsequent executive order says that that regulations must be “accessible, consistent, written in plain language, and easy to understand.”

Knowing what an acronym or word means doesn’t make it a good read. Or, as my Haitian friends say, “Pal franse pa di lespri pou sa.” (Just because you speak French doesn’t mean you’re smart.)

About the author:  Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.