Military abbreviations – basic rules
Recently, I have worked at some military exercise prepared mainly by the Polish personnel. Although there were some American native speakers involved in the exercise preparation, some linguistic mistakes and minor errors could be found in the source documents. Even when I ignored some typos, there still were many occurrences of mistakes I could analyse from the point of view of linguist. That is how I collected interesting materials for my thesis on translation mistakes. Here are my observations on the usage of military abbreviations.
Soldiers love acronyms
The most striking feature of the texts I had opportunity to work on, was a poor handling of the abbreviations. It goes without saying that the military community loves abbreviations but few users can really manage to introduce them in a proper way. Here are the main sins of the military users of English.
Plural nouns in the abbreviations
First of all, the ubiquitous apostrophe tends to appear in any plural form of the nouns it abbreviates, e.g. “SOTG’s“. Since the apostrophe here does not indicate genetive relationship, all the author had to do was to omit the apostrophe. “SOTGS” is not the proper form either since it suggests that a letter “S” is a part of the expression being abbreviated, not the plural form indicator. To make the acronym comprehensible and unambiguous it should read “SOTGs.”
The proper article
Any abbreviation not standing for a proper name or the unique phenomenon should be preceded by the article matching the initial sound not the initial character. That is why such abbreviations as EOD, IED, etc. require “an” at the beginning. For the same reason such an abbreviation as UAV requires “a“.
Usage of capital letters
If we use only capital letters to create any abbreviation, at the same time we limit our chances to make the readers guess what expression we are trying to code. If you know two meanings of “POL” (Petrol Oil Lubricants vs. Pattern of Life), the abbreviation written as above, may convey both meanings. The context will decide what meaning should be the right one in a given situation. But if we write it as “PoL” we can eliminate the logistic context immediately, suggesting that “o” stands for a preposition, which makes “Pattern of Life” the only possible option here.
Thousands of acronyms and abbreviations make the soldier’s life hard enough. Do not make it harder by creating or just using existing abbreviations in a careless manner. If you follow these simple rules, any document will be more clear, even to a rookie.
You can find thousands of military abbreviations and acronyms in one file here.