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Acronyms: Know your ACE from your elbow?

Laura Brown on the city's mumbo jumbo and why we need to cut the C.R.A.P*

Published on April 21st 2011.

Acronyms: Know your ACE from your elbow?

LAST weekend the erudite Alexei Sayle was at the Bluecoat.

Reading an excerpt from his new book and discussing how arts and culture developed during the last economic blow-out in the 80s he was, as ever, no nonsense. In the last two hours of the session, he was joined by a panel from Liverpool’s arts community and academic world, discussing funding options, cuts and the ever-present threats to jobs.

alexei_sayle.jpgAfter Alexei’s searing honesty and realism, mixed with refreshing humour, suddenly we were bundled into a very different set-up.

Know your LARC from your VAiL? Your SMAC from your COOL? Mates with the ACE or the LCC? I’d only just got to grips with RFOs when NPOs and NICE landed in my lap.

Liverpool’s quagmire of acronyms is hardly welcoming or inclusive. And it’s not just the arts. The city’s universities are just as bad as it the local council from CCLiP to LJMU, LDL or NWDA.

I have a theory that the reason people aren’t engaged with the latest referendum for AV isn’t because they don’t get it (give us some credit) it’s because the minute you throw in an acronym, most people switch off. And if any city is guilty of an over-use of acronyms it’s Liverpool.

'It’s a use of language that reinforces
 a shared membership of an elite'

Paula Keaveney, when she was on Liverpool City Council’s Executive Board last year, launched a campaign to cut out the authority’s acronym overload. The council’s PR team say they’re bombarded with jargon from Whitehall and are desperate to move away from it.

She argues actually, in this day and age it’s doing more harm than good.

“It’s clumsy. If you need to communicate with voters or visitors it’s difficult to get your message across if they can’t understand you but this gives this sense you are members of an exclusive club. It’s a use of language that reinforces a shared membership of an elite. The point of that is usually defeated if you’re midway through a presentation and someone has to put their hand up and say ‘what does that stand for?’”

At a time when local authorities want us to engage more, arts organisations want us to visit and universities are trying to convince us that paying around the tenth of the value of a house in Wavertree to go there is a fair deal, is talking to us in a language we don’t understand really going to help you get your message across more effectively?

300_av inside.jpgTake next month’s referendum on AV, or Alternative Vote. Campaigning to get people to say yay or nay is one thing, trying to explain a relatively complex idea by making them feel they don’t feel part of an exclusive club is another.

I sent a list of my favourite acronyms making me LOL in Liverpool to a few different sectors.

Simon Rhodes is the boss over at Smiling Wolf, a design agency that works with everyone from government, arts, businesses and academia. His favourites include NWDA, TMP, NML, KIND and YPAS. Good work done by each and every one, but hands up if you don’t have to Google just one of them?

Antony Pickthall works as marketing manager at Liverpool Biennial, as well as being a freelance arts bod. A lot of acronyms in the arts, he argues, aren’t meant to be public facing (they should probably stop using them in front of journalists then) but the problem is, as he sees it, sometimes they fall foul of making life a bit easier, “not every acronym is as simple as it seems and they just seem to do the exact opposite of what they are intended to do, or play into the hands of people who think the arts are elitist. Sometimes, all it needs is a little bit of thought and you can have both the acronym and the shorthand.”


ldl great.jpgBut it is part of a more serious issue. As more and more feel disenfranchised through either job cuts, funding reductions, organisations being closed down or whatnot, we’ll want to feel safer and more secure in our own networks. As we try to make ourselves feel more included and part of the gang we’ll slip into comfortable jargon, further alienating those on the outside. More barriers go up.

Undoubtedly, there’s more than a sense of achievement if you come up with an acronym that is witty, timely and concise, in the same way if you write a Twitter update that’s pithy, topical, entertaining and exactly 140 characters. But perhaps, if we want people to realise how clever we are and how engaged, maybe we should spend less time coming up with what we assume are catchy names.

Meanwhile, back at the Bluecoat, there’s one thing that stood out. There was only one person on the panel who mentioned audiences when they were talking about how their exhibitions or programmes might be affected by funding cuts.

Says it all, really.


*(Constant Resort to Acronyms Phenomenon)

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ObserverApril 21st 2011.

Of course, wasn't it Liverpool Confidential's AA Grill who ran the successful campaign to save the Stanley Dock buildings from the bulldozer. What was it called again? Oh yes, the Tobacco Warehouse Action Team

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