‘I’ve got COPD,’ said a friend of mine, not elaborating at all as I stared at him waiting for him to explain what that stood for. I had to look it up later. His expression told me firmly that everyone was au fait with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
A few hours earlier, another friend had texted to say she would be late for t/c, which, upon my enquiring, turned out to mean that she would be late meeting me to have a cup of tea or coffee.
She said she was busy at GC (which turned out to be Guildford College) and had been working late at the ITA (by which she meant Italian restaurant).
Why do people talk in acronyms? Is it self-obsession that makes them think everyone instantly recognises the very specific shorthand terms that refer to their lives?
I once had a lodger who was forever talking about her meetings with the IRA. She was a tiny little thing, blonde and ditsy. At 22 years old, she had just started a career as a social worker and worked long hours visiting children in care, then writing up reports on their progress. She was absolutely lovely, the sweetest girl you could imagine.
But she would often come through the front door in the evening and when I asked how her day had been, sigh heavily and say: ‘Really difficult meeting with the IRA today.’
And I, not wanting to even go there, would just nod and make sympathetic noises, and ask her what she fancied for her tea, because it blew my mind that social services made her meet with terrorists, for reasons I could not begin to imagine.
I made a mental note to get to the bottom of it before she left and one night, when she was in a quiet mood, and there was a gap in the conversation, I asked how and why she had got involved with the Irish Republican Army.
We were sitting at my kitchen table tucking into my home-made version of Nando’s chicken with all the sides, her favourite meal.
She looked up at me and stopped working her fork with one hand and her iPhone with the other, for, like all young people, she shovelled food into her mouth while texting friends or browsing for dates on Tinder. The dextrous movement of her left thumb moving across the oversized phone screen cradled in her left hand, as she forked sweetcorn into her mouth with her right, used to fascinate me.
She made a sound like ‘Uh?’, then turned back to her phone, and when I repeated my question she made clear she had never heard of such a terrorist group. The IRA, she explained, as though I was remedial, was the Integrated Research Application system for health and social care students.
Of course it was! How silly of me. ‘To me,’ I tried to explain, ‘the IRA is a terrorist organisation.’ She looked at me horrified, as though I were somehow responsible for this. ‘It’s a generational thing, I suppose,’ I said. She shook her head like I was mad.
I have long assumed they don’t teach any kind of history in schools any more, so a twenty-something not knowing about the Troubles doesn’t surprise me, but I do think it was incredible that she should assume that everyone had the same specialist knowledge of her relatively rarefied life as she did.
Of course, it’s the texting and WhatsApping that’s the problem. Everyone socialises online, conversing with typed messages, so they have to abbreviate routinely.
I wonder what my acronyms might be and how poetic and expressive my language could become if I started speaking in them. ‘I don’t have time to HR today, I’ve got to W/C,’ I might text a friend. ‘How about tomorrow for a QC then we can HMRC?’
Which obviously translates as I can’t horse-ride today, I’m writing my column. How about tomorrow for a quick coffee then we can hack mine round the common?’
If you can’t understand ’em, join ’em. I’ll message the BB later and ask if he wants an IT tonight. We haven’t had Indian takeaway for ages, although we have had way too much KFC.
I might also text the plumber to ask if he can fix my k/s o’f. I’m looking at a SH with 2 ac in ES at w/e and if it’s AG I want to get my house OTM asap.
How stupid would he be not to be able to work out that I want him to fix my kitchen sink overflow because I’m looking at a two-acre smallholding in East Sussex this weekend and if it’s any good I want to get my house on the market as soon as possible?