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Acronyms Seriously Suck - Elon Musk

From time to time, Musk will send out an e-mail to the entire company to enforce a new policy or let them know about something that's bothering him. One of the more famous e-mails arrived in May 2010 with the subject line: Acronyms Seriously Suck:

There is a creeping tendency to use made up acronyms at SpaceX. Excessive use of made up acronyms is a significant impediment to communication and keeping communication good as we grow is incredibly important. Individually, a few acronyms here and there may not seem so bad, but if a thousand people are making these up, over time the result will be a huge glossary that we have to issue to new employees. No one can actually remember all these acronyms and people don't want to seem dumb in a meeting, so they just sit there in ignorance. This is particularly tough on new employees.

That needs to stop immediately or I will take drastic action - I have given enough warning over the years. Unless an acronym is approved by me, it should not enter the SpaceX glossary. If there is an existing acronym that cannot reasonably be justified, it should be eliminated, as I have requested in the past.

For example, there should be not "HTS" [horizontal test stand] or "VTS" [vertical test stand] designations for test stands. Those are particularly dumb, as they contain unnecessary words. A "stand" at our test site is obviously a test stand. VTS-3 is four syllables compared with "Tripod", which is two, so the bloody acronym version actually takes longer to say than the name!

The key test for an acronym is to ask whether it helps or hurts communication. An acronym that most engineers outside of SpaceX already know, such as GUI, is fine to use. It is also ok to make up a few acronyms/contractions every now and again, assuming I have approved them, e.g. MVac and M9 instead of Merlin 1C-Vacuum or Merlin 1C-Sea Level, but those need to be kept to a minimum.

@helloRupa

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@helloRupa helloRupa commented Jan 22, 2018

This is one of the most beautiful emails I have ever read. Acronyms were a thorn in my side at my previous job.

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@holzlchr holzlchr commented Feb 12, 2018

TAWYG!
(Totally Agree With You Guys)

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@lzl124631x lzl124631x commented Jun 23, 2018

+1.

No one can actually remember all these acronyms and people don't want to seem dumb in a meeting, so they just sit there in ignorance.

I got more confidence to ask what those "bloody" acronyms mean in meetings.

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@mcadorel mcadorel commented Oct 23, 2018

Ass is a Smart Suggestion.

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@casperboone casperboone commented Jan 20, 2019

LGTM ๐Ÿ‘

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@M-lyft M-lyft commented Jul 18, 2019

LGTM ๐Ÿ‘

Let's go totally mental?

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@informatimago informatimago commented Aug 22, 2019

Ass is a Smart Suggestion.

ASSIASS

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@zessu zessu commented Oct 30, 2019

Totally agree

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@AmyKopischke AmyKopischke commented Nov 21, 2019

For the record, my favorite acrynym is www. No fun to say the words, no fun to pronounce the letters ;)

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@o6uoq o6uoq commented Nov 22, 2019

LGTM ๐Ÿ‘

Let's go totally mental?

Looks Good To Me ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

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@AmyKopischke AmyKopischke commented Nov 22, 2019

LGTM ๐Ÿ‘

Let's go totally mental?

Looks Good To Me ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

Let's Get Together monday

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@alexholsgrove alexholsgrove commented Nov 29, 2019

LGTM ๐Ÿ‘

Let's go totally mental?

Looks Good To Me ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

Let's Get Together monday

Leave Goats To Mingle

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@LoicH LoicH commented Nov 29, 2019

LGTM ๐Ÿ‘

Let's go totally mental?

Looks Good To Me ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

Let's Get Together monday

Leave Goats To Mingle

Let's Get This Moolah

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@zessu zessu commented Nov 29, 2019

LGTM ๐Ÿ‘

Let's go totally mental?

Looks Good To Me ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

Let's Get Together monday

Leave Goats To Mingle

Let's Get This Moolah

Lack Girlfriend To Meet

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@stanwmusic stanwmusic commented Nov 30, 2019

LGTM +1

Let's go totally mental?

Looks Good To Me ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

Let's Get Together monday

Leave Goats To Mingle

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Lack Girlfriend To Meet
Let's Go To Mars!

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@ivanmalagon ivanmalagon commented Jan 10, 2020

LGTM +1

Let's go totally mental?

Looks Good To Me ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

Let's Get Together monday

Leave Goats To Mingle

Let's Get This Moolah

Lack Girlfriend To Meet
Let's Go To Mars!

Let's Get This Merged!

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@katowulf katowulf commented Jan 10, 2020

For the record, my favorite acrynym is www. No fun to say the words, no fun to pronounce the letters ;)

But it's fun to say "dub-dub-dub". Maybe this is the first acronym to have it's own, err, anti-abbreviation?

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@nirajksinha nirajksinha commented Feb 23, 2020

LGTM +1

Let's go totally mental?

Looks Good To Me ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

Let's Get Together monday

Leave Goats To Mingle

Let's Get This Moolah

Lack Girlfriend To Meet
Let's Go To Mars!

Let's Get This Merged!

Lets Get Ten More :)

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@alexholsgrove alexholsgrove commented Feb 23, 2020

LGTM +1

Let's go totally mental?

Looks Good To Me ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

Let's Get Together monday

Leave Goats To Mingle

Let's Get This Moolah

Lack Girlfriend To Meet
Let's Go To Mars!

Let's Get This Merged!

Lets Get Ten More :)

Lonely Giraffe Tickled Me

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@nagrass nagrass commented Mar 9, 2020

LGTM +1

Let's go totally mental?

Looks Good To Me ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

Let's Get Together monday

Leave Goats To Mingle

Let's Get This Moolah

Lack Girlfriend To Meet
Let's Go To Mars!

Let's Get This Merged!

Lets Get Ten More :)

Lonely Giraffe Tickled Me

Legendary Genius Transformative Methods

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@wahyuoi wahyuoi commented Mar 19, 2020

LGTM +1

Let's go totally mental?

Looks Good To Me ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

Let's Get Together monday

Leave Goats To Mingle

Let's Get This Moolah

Lack Girlfriend To Meet
Let's Go To Mars!

Let's Get This Merged!

Lets Get Ten More :)

Lonely Giraffe Tickled Me

Legendary Genius Transformative Methods

Let's Gamble, Try Merging

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@andyfeller andyfeller commented Apr 8, 2020

For the record, my favorite acrynym is www. No fun to say the words, no fun to pronounce the letters ;)

dub-dub-dub

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@borntodeal borntodeal commented Apr 21, 2020

I was in the Navy for eight years and acronyms do seriously suck. I follow Mr. Musk's guidance here and just spell stuff out.

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@klaaspieter klaaspieter commented Apr 22, 2020

This gist just keeps on giving. Thanks everyone ๐Ÿ˜

I regularly link here when people use acronyms which was it's intended purpose. I never expected โ˜๏ธ.

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@Jerry-Carter Jerry-Carter commented Apr 24, 2020

LGTM +1

Let's go totally mental?

Looks Good To Me ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

Let's Get Together monday

Leave Goats To Mingle

Let's Get This Moolah

Lack Girlfriend To Meet
Let's Go To Mars!

Let's Get This Merged!

Lets Get Ten More :)

Lonely Giraffe Tickled Me

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Launch Girls To Mars!

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@mikaelshields mikaelshields commented May 2, 2020

LGTM +1

Let's go totally mental?

Looks Good To Me ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

Let's Get Together monday

Leave Goats To Mingle

Let's Get This Moolah

Lack Girlfriend To Meet
Let's Go To Mars!

Let's Get This Merged!

Lets Get Ten More :)

Lonely Giraffe Tickled Me

Legendary Genius Transformative Methods

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@kstandell kstandell commented May 6, 2020

LGTM +1

Let's go totally mental?

Looks Good To Me ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

Let's Get Together monday

Leave Goats To Mingle

Let's Get This Moolah

Lack Girlfriend To Meet
Let's Go To Mars!

Let's Get This Merged!

Lets Get Ten More :)

Lonely Giraffe Tickled Me

Legendary Genius Transformative Methods

Let's Gamble, Try Merging

Lines Geared Towards Mischief

Let's Go To McDonald's

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@andyfeller andyfeller commented May 6, 2020

LGTM Going Too Meta

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@axd1967 axd1967 commented May 10, 2020

Interestingly, nobody here seems to disagree...

So let's air a different opinion... Because I disagree. Not that it matters at all. Apart from that, this is an interesting discussion.

I believe that this attitude of avoiding acronyms tells something about people that are whining, sorry. They have something in common: they are new on a project, or never bothered looking up an acronym or have no time or no energy to do so, or are still struggling with the acronym (I have never mastered an acronym of one project I worked in for in years, namely SASS-C, I do understand the issue, but this has never stopped anyone I know from working). I think it is the irritation of not knowing what is being talked about, not being in the loop, that gives acronyms a hard time. If you knew, you would not trip over the acronym.

Good luck with spelling out all those names. And making exceptions for acronyms that originate from outside the company? So you will torture your employees because you can't stay up-to-date with the new acronyms, but they will be allowed to use external acronyms? I think there is a different problem here.

Good luck with looking for names, then. The problem will remain - wtf - oops - is "Crew Dragon"? "Falcon"? "Starlink"? "Starship"? Even SpaceX is meaningless, I would abbreviate it to SX...

And since when would an acronym hurt communication? Acronyms pop up spontaneously because people are lazy and fed up having to spell things out every time, that's how human nature works. The acronyms are necessary to make communication more efficient, to the detriment of those listening in, to the newbies. But they learn fast. So mabe you hate acronyms because you are a slow learner?

Look at the bottom of this page, you will find acronyms - API. Blog. Inc.. Look at the top. There's already one - ".md". Zip. Acronyms are everywhere, it's ridiculous to try to ban them, they will come back.

So I find it very interesting to study people who have issues with acronyms...

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@jasonknight jasonknight commented May 28, 2020

I worked at Orange in France. They used acronyms very heavily. It made the work incredibly difficult, and there were large numbers of acronyms that would take weeks to find someone who knew what they mean, and occasionally they were wrong.

In my personal experience, what Elon is saying is absolutely 100% true. Orange/France Telecom is living proof of how insane the acronym practice can become.

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@informatimago informatimago commented May 28, 2020

Interestingly, nobody here seems to disagree...

So let's air a different opinion... Because I disagree. Not that it matters at all. Apart from that, this is an interesting discussion.
[...]
Good luck with looking for names, then. The problem will remain - wtf - oops - is "Crew Dragon"? "Falcon"? "Starlink"? "Starship"? Even SpaceX is meaningless, I would abbreviate it to SX...

And since when would an acronym hurt communication? Acronyms pop up spontaneously because people are lazy and fed up having to spell things out every time, that's how human nature works. The acronyms are necessary to make communication more efficient, to the detriment of those listening in, to the newbies. But they learn fast. So mabe you hate acronyms because you are a slow learner?

Look at the bottom of this page, you will find acronyms - API. Blog. Inc.. Look at the top. There's already one - ".md". Zip. Acronyms are everywhere, it's ridiculous to try to ban them, they will come back.

Even โ€œnatural language wordsโ€ are actually acronyms, according to a disputed linguistic theory! (cf Linguistic Archaeology, Edo Nyland).

But my point is that itโ€™s a matter of scope. Itโ€™s ok to have a few local (to the current document) acronyms. Itโ€™s not ok to import them from everywhere. After all, there are only 17576 three-letter acronyms! And even much less if you consider that you want to increase the hamilton distance between them! Iโ€™ve seen documents where the acronym dictionary is bigger than the text, and needs a separate book. Itโ€™s ridiculous. If an expression doesnโ€™t occur more than twice in the document you definitely donโ€™t need to use an acronym, even if itโ€™s common such as the one for โ€œgraphical user interfaceโ€! Note that I have used an acronym in this text (โ€œokโ€), but itโ€™s all correct, since Iโ€™ve used it more than twice!

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@katowulf katowulf commented Jun 5, 2020

I was in the Navy for eight years and acronyms do seriously suck. I follow Mr. Musk's guidance here and just spell stuff out.

Well, it's not terribly practical in the military. I'm pretty sure that there is in fact no valid way to spell out COMSUBROMNAV1 for example. And if there was, nobody remembers what it stood for; it's just a name for the artifact it describes.

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@CubeSpawn CubeSpawn commented Jun 11, 2020

Good Advice!

I encourage you all to sign up immediately for an SPA membership!

John Metriean, ABR, CRE, RRC, QSE
Acting Ambassador
Society for the Prevention of Acronyms

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@mvysny mvysny commented Jun 15, 2020

I worked at Orange in France. They used acronyms very heavily. It made the work incredibly difficult, and there were large numbers of acronyms that would take weeks to find someone who knew what they mean, and occasionally they were wrong.

@jasonknight Unfortunately it's not just Oracle, I think it's a telecom thing. Ericsson is the same in this regard.

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@LeoClickWorks LeoClickWorks commented Jun 25, 2020

LGTM +1

Let's go totally mental?

Looks Good To Me ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

Let's Get Together monday

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Let's Go To Mars!

Let's Get This Merged!

Lets Get Ten More :)

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@ozcanzaferayan ozcanzaferayan commented Jul 3, 2020

LGTM +1

Let's go totally mental?

Looks Good To Me ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

Let's Get Together monday

Leave Goats To Mingle

Let's Get This Moolah

Lack Girlfriend To Meet
Let's Go To Mars!

Let's Get This Merged!

Lets Get Ten More :)

Lonely Giraffe Tickled Me

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@dbpieter dbpieter commented Sep 4, 2020

LGTM +1

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Let's Get Together monday

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Let's Get This Moolah

Lack Girlfriend To Meet
Let's Go To Mars!

Let's Get This Merged!

Lets Get Ten More :)

Lonely Giraffe Tickled Me

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Leave Garfield To Me !

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@mevsme mevsme commented Sep 5, 2020

LGTM +1

Let's go totally mental?

Looks Good To Me ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

Let's Get Together monday

Leave Goats To Mingle

Let's Get This Moolah

Lack Girlfriend To Meet
Let's Go To Mars!

Let's Get This Merged!

Lets Get Ten More :)

Lonely Giraffe Tickled Me

Legendary Genius Transformative Methods

Let's Gamble, Try Merging

Lines Geared Towards Mischief

Let's Go To McDonald's

Large Gray Torqued Monkeys

Lazy Graphic Transformation Methods

Leave Garfield To Me !

Lines Golf Tripods Metaphysics

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@carinajean carinajean commented Oct 11, 2020

LGTM +1

Let's go totally mental?

Looks Good To Me ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

Let's Get Together monday

Leave Goats To Mingle

Let's Get This Moolah

Lack Girlfriend To Meet
Let's Go To Mars!

Let's Get This Merged!

Lets Get Ten More :)

Lonely Giraffe Tickled Me

Legendary Genius Transformative Methods

Let's Gamble, Try Merging

Lines Geared Towards Mischief

Let's Go To McDonald's

Large Gray Torqued Monkeys

Lazy Graphic Transformation Methods

Leave Garfield To Me !

Lines Golf Tripods Metaphysics

Looks Good TIll Morning

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@supernovashock supernovashock commented Oct 11, 2020

Right. I need to say I support absolutely what Elon is saying. But I need to break it down, and I'm afraid I need to take Mr. Musk to school.

First of all, Elon Musk says "acronyms" but he really means either "initialisms," such as his "HTS" example, i.e. an abbreviation created out of the initial letters of the words in a phrase, or possibly "abbreviations," which is an umbrella term for both initialisms and acronyms. An acronym is an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word. You know. Like NASA. This is kind of ironic coming from the SpaceX guy. He is wrong and all of you who call something like "HTML," "GPS," or whatever the hell "LTGM" means to you an acronym are also wrong. You shouldn't be able to graduate from high school without knowing this.

Now that I've made an earnest attempt to show my hand as an unrepentant grammar dictator, I'm gonna talk about his meaning rather than his (and everyone else's) handling of the words.

His point is valid and it's absolutely true that "Excessive use of made up acronyms is a significant impediment to communication." And even though the elephant in the room here is that literally all acronyms (and abbreviations, grrrrr) are made up, it's just simply a fact. Abbreviations burden the reader/listener with the chore of deciphering the meaning of words that could simply have been spelled out or fully verbalized. Let me repeat that. You are trying to communicate with someone else, and by the use of such obfuscatory terms, you're actually making it harder for the person to whom you're trying to get through to understand you.

To those of you defending the use of such abbreviations (you said "acronyms" in error, but I forgive you), I get your value of them. Sure. It's faster. But it's only faster for those who have already conquered the learning curve. What if you're introducing something new to an outsider and throw a barrage of ADTMYLCHORICYAs* at them? If you suspect they will either have their eyes glaze over in a complete lack of comprehension, or simply stay silent out of embarrassment, you're right.

Perhaps you like to use these terms as some kind of inside jargon. A code to confer a kind of secret insider knowledge that gives people a way to talk about an idea in shorthand. They increase the perceived importance of ideas, and at the same time they also help keep other ideas from entering the inner circle. If you're gonna be like that, fine, but good luck when you have to talk to anyone outside this inner circle. I think anyone in the military will back me up on this.

Or maybe you just like to use them for mischief. That's fine. But when your use of these FUBAR ADTMYLCHORICYAs* result in a SNAFU, you will have only yourself to blame.

Here's a real world example. I quoted a now classic hip-hop reference to a person who was under the age of 35 last week in the form of the Naughty By Nature song's eponymous chorus, "You down with OPP?" And all I got back was an utterly blank stare. Alas, she did NOT know me. That's what you're doing when you use silly ADTMYLCHORICYAs*.

So, really, everybody. Cut it out already. Use your words.

*Abbreviations Designed To Make You Look Cool However Only Result In Confusing Your Audience

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@o6uoq o6uoq commented Oct 11, 2020

Right. I need to say I support absolutely what Elon is saying. But I need to break it down, and I'm afraid I need to take Mr. Musk to school.

You just ruined one of the greatest GitHub threads in history.

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@scotthraban scotthraban commented Oct 12, 2020

A "stand" at our test site is obviously a test stand.

Is it obvious? Really? Unless you have insider knowledge, you wouldn't know this as a day 1 employee, so how is it any better than an acronym?

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@mcblum mcblum commented Oct 13, 2020

Right. I need to say I support absolutely what Elon is saying. But I need to break it down, and I'm afraid I need to take Mr. Musk to school.

You just ruined one of the greatest GitHub threads in history.

๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚ for real.

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@MikeDoes MikeDoes commented Oct 16, 2020

initialisms

initialisms is a sub-class of acronyms so he is J-chilling

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