Initialisms or acronyms as different parts of speech
June 22, 2018 12:19 PM   Subscribe

Can I use initials to refer both to a noun and to a verb? As in, I define a term -- "gandy dancer (GD)"-- and later, when referring to gandy dancing, I use "GD"?

Is there a section in the APA 6th edition or the current Chicago Manual of Style that addresses this? Thanks.
posted by Francolin to Writing & Language (9 answers total)
Sounds like a recipe for confusion. At best, you could maybe get away with GDer and GDing after defining GD as gandy dance. What kind of publication is this?
posted by rikschell at 12:24 PM on June 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

If you define it as in your example, I would say no. But if you say, "In the following I will use the initials GD to mean either gandy dancing or gandy dancer," you can do what you want. I agree with rikschell, though, that it will still be confusing. You'll be using the same initials to refer to things that are quite different. If Donald Trumper and Donald Trumping both appeared in your piece, would you really use DT to refer to both?

BTW, "gandy dancer" and "gandy dancing" are both nouns. One doesn't see initialisms used for verbs very often, because verbs need to be conjugated.
posted by ubiquity at 12:30 PM on June 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

What you're proposing seems like an informal usage that wouldn't be appropriate in the kind of formal writing that APA and Chicago address.

If you want to use an acronym as a verb, I think you still need to basically conjugate it. GDing, GDed, etc, and it would only really work if you initigally defined GD as gandy dance rather than gandy dancer -- because you can't be gandy dancering. But then you'd need to use GDer throughout to refer to dancers.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:31 PM on June 22, 2018

I was unable to find this addressed specifically in Chicago. However, Chicago does say that an abbreviation is made plural by adding s, so per Chicago, if GD stands for "gandy dancer," then "gandy dancers" is GDs. Extrapolating from this, I would not think you could use GD for "gandy dancing."

And I agree that it would make it harder to read.
posted by FencingGal at 12:42 PM on June 22, 2018

I would say no. That is confusing and you are straying from your definition of the term (which in my mind includes the precise nature of the term)
posted by hepta at 12:49 PM on June 22, 2018

Can you? Yes. Language is communication, not rules.

Should you? No. Language is communication, and this runs the risk of not communicating the way you think it will. You know that "GD" will mean "gandy dance[r|s|ing]" rather than only meaning "gandy dancer", but your audience may not make that leap if you do not explain it to them as such.
posted by Etrigan at 12:53 PM on June 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Editor who works with both technical & lay language here. I’d say: you can but you shouldn’t. Suggested steps:

First, follow common usage from the field. Does GD more commonly mean gandy dancer than gandy dance? Then follow that lead.
Second, read your whole passage aloud and see if it sounds unnatural. If not, make it sound better.
Third (a *distant* third), try to apply logical consistency to any short forms. Trying to apply logic before common usage can yield awkward, tortured phrasing that won’t actually help your reader (or save that much space, if you end up having to spell out all the different variations at first usage).

Lots of acronyms and initialisms get used as both nouns & verbs (RBI’d twice when deep in the count, OD’d on cuteness, PDF’d it from Excel, etc., etc.) PC can be either political correctness or politically correct—but it’s generally clear from the context which is meant. If you’re inventing a new acronym or using an unfamiliar one, I’d strongly discourage conjugating it too much or making complicated variations and back-formations. The result is likely to be self-consciously cutesy, confusing, or both (WTFery, RsBI and WsMD instead of RBIs or WMDs, we all L’dOL).

(on preview, what Etrigan said)
posted by miles per flower at 1:27 PM on June 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would usually use "GD'ing" with an apostrophe to emphasize the initialism'ism. Probably not Harper's-approved, though.
posted by rhizome at 1:53 PM on June 22, 2018

Response by poster: Thank you for your help -- I didn't think this was right, and no one else seems to, either.
posted by Francolin at 2:39 PM on June 23, 2018

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