Guest Column: Ban ugly language shortcuts 4ever

(01/17/2000) - Y2K meant different things to different people. Guess what it meant to me? Let's call it "the ugly acronym."

Oh yes, I bought into it. There was no way not to. Fortunately, once the popular media adopted it, people generally knew what it meant. Even my parents wondered about it. "What is it about this K2Y thing, anyway?" my dad asked a couple of years ago. So when a term is understood -- even when garbled -- I by and large have no problem using it.

But Y2K should be viewed as an exception to the rules of acronyms, initials and abbreviations, because it doesn't follow convention. In fact, it thwarts it, being a conglomeration of numerals and letters, not all of which directly correspond to the words they represent. Let's stop with Y2K, before other expressions follow suit and our language becomes a bizarre mix of characters appealing mostly to people accustomed to electronic bulletin boards.

Consider what Y2K actually is. We have Y, which stands for year. We have 2, which in fact means the number 2. Then we have K, which doesn't stand for the word it represents -- that would be a T -- but instead is a commonly known abbreviation for thousand. So, Y follows the rules, 2 is a number and K stands not for kilobits or karats or kangaroos but thousands. A real mishmash.

Meanwhile, use of the numeral 2 has entered our acronym world elsewhere -- not meaning two but to. We can probably blame the aforementioned bulletin boards for that, where members talk about having F2F (face-to-face) meetings and otherwise use 2 as a stand-in for the preposition. In the business world, this usage has crept into phrases such as B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-consumer), which are usually used in reference to e-commerce. So, here we have a disconnect, with the 2 as established in Y2K meaning a number and the 2 used elsewhere meaning to.

Another natural number to be co-opted in this way is 4, which, so far, isn't in many business terms but is the preferred "spelling" of the preposition for in chat groups. Do we really want to be known as the nation that goes around asking, "R U ready 2 C me 4 T?"

So thanks, folks, for introducing that shorthand. But let's exercise some restraint and stay away from it. Let's make Y2K a one-time thing, in all senses of the term.