How Acronyms Ruin Movies (HARM)

You can blame the Internet. You can blame cell phone texting. You can blame email.

James Cameron
Thanks a lot, king of the world

I blame James Cameron.

Once upon a time, Mr. Cameron made a little film called Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which, to my recollection, did reasonably well for its day. The marketing behind the movie conjured up a simple but interesting twist on the movie title for its teaser campaign by dropping the sub-heading completely and shortening the first word to its first letter, giving us the alliterative T2. It was a cute automobile metaphor that played off the fact that Schwarzenegger’s killing machine came off an assembly line, ready-made to maim, dismember and massacre.

It was clever… once.

Half a decade later, Roland Emmerich and company thought they could pull the same trick by abbreviating their alien invasion movie, Independence Day, to the nonsensical ID4, leaving one to wonder what happened to ID one through three. ID 7/4 would have been just as ridiculous and redundant but at least it would have been more accurate.

With the rise of Internet movie blogging, the dam has broken completely and now everyone thinks they’re hip, cool and esoteric by acronym-ing the title of every damn movie released.

I think there is a medical basis for this phenomenon and I decided to give it a name: Acronymic Slang Syndrome, or ASS.

Mission:Impossible III
Typical ASS

If you’re a fan of movie blogs, as I am, you’ll notice you can’t frequent them without being bombarded by ASS. Bloggers wear their ASS almost as a badge of pride, instead of what it is… an affliction to be overcome. There is so much ASS on a typical blog that it can sometimes be a research project to determine what in heaven’s name these ASS-es (Acronymic Slang Sufferers) are talking about.

Let’s just break down the logic for a moment. The point of acronyms is to make things easier on the reader when repeatedly referencing the title of a particular work or the name of an artist. In a well-written article, it is used to refer to a longer item that was introduced earlier. However, reading an article laden with acronyms breaks the flow of the article and can actually hinder efficient reading, as well as writing.

In the case of blog comments, as anyone who has frequented them can attest, an efficient and well-written idea is generally considered optional, if not pointless. The point is to be snarky, hip, clever, funny, fashionable (unlike this article, which is clearly in earnest).

TDK Cassette
Top-grossing movie of 2008

The latest trend is this horrendous abuse of the intended-to-be-friendly acronym. Bloggers have become either insanely lazy or tragically trendy. The Dark Knight, overrated as it is, cannot enjoy being the object of discussion without being reduced to a throwaway reference (TDK) more evocative of a Japanese electronics company than a popular blockbuster summer movie.

But if you consider this craze in the abstract, it really only serves two functions: to make ASS-es feel like exclusive members of some secret club or to turn movie references into ridiculous footnotes.

S’up, G?

Additionally, the practice is, by necessity, inconsistent. Let’s consider: if I’m discussing Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning Gladiator, do I then refer to it as G? Then how to refer to Goldeneye? Gidget? Gandhi? Giant? What about the opposite effect? If I wish to refer to Hugh Grant’s The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, do I really save myself that much trouble by typing TEWWUAHBCDAM? I had to really think about that in order to type it.

This habit gets even more insufferable when encountering acronyms that serendipitously spell out actual words. Imagine the fanboy rush that ensued when Snakes on a Plane enjoyed this nonsensical double-entendre.

I have made it a point to eschew this practice and I will continue to do so. ASS can be avoided by simply not being an ASS. The artworks I enjoy, be they movies or books or songs (can you imagine this practice being tolerated with paintings?) deserve more respect.

Disagree? That’s fine by me. Tell me your thoughts below.

EDIT: Well, this is embarrassing. As Stewart pointed out below, an acronym is a word formed from the initial letters of other words (Oxford American Dictionaries), whereas the majority of my examples are merely initialisms. I feel like quite an ASS (Abbreviated Script Schmuck). Rather than rewriting the article, I will let the error stand as a warning to me to be more careful in the future. Thank you, Stewart.

  • Timido

    I think the origins of this trend predates T2: what about TMNT (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)?

    • Bassthang!

      Nice article. You’ve nailed something that has been annoying me for some time now but I hadn’t quite realised what it was until you put your finger on it. Acronyms are fine if they are defined on 1st use (as a one-time writer of product manuals and procedures, I’d be stuck if I didn’t use acronyms accordingly), but using them just to sound cool is counter-productive. Reminds me of when I used to follow the space missions on TV: NASA had a habit of giving every bit of kit and procedure a very long name and then using an acronym. The habit seems to have spread. In a previous job, our MD came up with a cool-sounding acronym for a new device that we were launching, then set the staff the task of coming up with ideas of what it could stand for. The acronym was “OASIS” – not exactly original, as this was the mid-90s. . .

      • pompacibehcet

        Yo tha man, man.

        • Connor1138

          dnt knw wht yr tlkng abt

    • It may have been abbreviated in the comics but not the movie.

  • Harry

    I agree with you in part, but i felt that MI was a good enough acronym. It gave a kinda slick feeling to the flick. I guess TDK was a nice example, there s a limit probably to ASS.

    • I could be wrong, but I don’t recall the abbreviation of Mission: Impossible coming into popular use until the sequel.

  • Guy


  • jon

    I agree, and am tired of all the abbreviations on the interent in general. How much message board space is spent going “what does that acronym mean?” The only ones I support are those that are pretty clear and for movies with very long titles. LOTR for Lord of the Rings, and brief ones for the Harry Potter subtitles. But otherwise, it’s a pain.

  • Mike

    The first thing that pops to my mind is how ‘Life UneXpected’ is intentionally written that way so that it can be shortened to ‘LUX’, the main character’s name.

    • Eric

      LOL. You make a great point.

      Acronyms can make cute names (“The Man from U.N.C.L.E”, or the upcoming “S.H.I.E.L.D.” projects from Marvel Studios – see “Iron Man” for numerous gags about this one), and can once in a while help your brand. But if you can’t BRAND THE ACRONYM (as in the above examples, like TDK (the company) or AT&T) then just don’t have one!

      “ID4” didn’t sell tickets – cool visuals and Will Smith sold tickets. “TDK” didn’t sell tickets – Heath Ledger and a cool first movie sold tickets. Branding is a tricky concept. A good brand can help, a bad one can hurt. And adding an acronym can be just silly.

  • ale

    TDK, i saw this movie…with my stereo.

    • Django

      FWIW, WTF?

  • jrr

    as my native language is not english, it’s always baffling me something like SATC in imdb’s reviews.. it IS annoying. can’t one simply say ‘the movie’?

  • vg21

    You are soooo right, I totally agree! I also hate when people deliberately misspell words that sound identical with the one they mean since sometimes these homophones are so abundant I can’t figure out the message. Maybe, it’s my problem, but still. You’re as your and the other way round drive me mad. By the way, interesting topic for an article, thanks!

    • I love when people call me a looser. The irony cracks me up.

  • Ste

    Happens more in music, every band is abbreviated, even stuff like TR, where the T stands for The. Ridiculous. Again you have the long ones like ASIWYFA and other such nonsense. I agree that it must stop.

  • Pierre M

    I think this overuse of acronyms on movie blogs is certainly linked with the use of acronyms in everyday language like WTF,FML,MILF,LOL,OMG,FYI,BTW…. That reminds me of Orwell’s 1984 with the language getting constantly reduced.

    • Certainly this article could be expanded to include reductive language in general, particularly in light of its favored use with the advent of the Internet. However, as movies (as well as other art forms) are constantly being released, the reductive language becomes fluid rather than static, necessitating a constant re-education as to its meaning.

      • Demian

        I wholeheartedly agree. I’m sure many of us have our pet peeves: One of mine is the preparatory phrase “That said,”. I’d never heard it until about 4 years ago where it began being used by every TV journalist on the tube, seemingly. You couldn’t go 15 minutes watching TV “journalism” without hearing it at least once. Some commentators used it incessantly. I still hear if fairly often, although not as much as at its peak usage. It’s a supremely lazy way of communicating something else (and often ‘goes without saying’), but I assume it began its useful life as an abbreviation of “Having said that”, That having been said”, or other like phrases that indicate that what is coming somehow builds on what has come before – which, of course, any proper exposition does. That said….

  • Abby

    Well done! What’s even worse are the convoluted pronunciations of the acronyms when people try to use them in conversation. POTC (Pirates of the Caribbean) becomes Potsee, the Lord of the Rings become Loter or Lotter. And all of these get worse when you add in the subtitles for series films, like in the Harry Potter movies(SS, COS, POA, GOF…)

  • DS

    There’s just one thing… you’ve failed to explain how this practice “ruins movies”. None of these movies suffered in quality as a result of the acronymification of their titles. Only their marketing, and the content of the blogs that wrote about them, were affected.

    • Fair enough. I admit the title of the article was a bit desperate.

  • Rich

    Wait, I thought this was about how acronyms ruin movies. It’s actually about how acronyms for movie titles annoy you. That’s a whole other article. Also, yawn.

  • Stewart

    Minor error:

    An acronym is not any abbreviation (TDK, for instance). It is an abbreviation that can be pronounced as a word. So pretty much none of your examples are acronyms; they’re initialisms. SOAP for Snakes on a Plane would count…

    • Well, that’s embarrassing. Thank you for the clarification.

      • ASS Hater

        Soap Opera Digest, or should I say, SOD, patented this naming convention back in the 80s. Every soap had its own abbreviated name: AMC, GH, GL, Y&R, B&B, etc. But Days of Our Lives became DAYS, because nobody in their right mind would watch a show called DOOL.

        This practice gets even worse on music blogs. Every song and album title gets abbreviated to the point where only the most hardcore fans can figure out what’s going on. As a Wilco fan, I will always type out “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” because mine breaks every time I see someone else type IATTBYH.

        • Phirun

          Fans of German soap operas tend to abbreviate the names of their favorite shows, for example GZSZ for “Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten” (“good times, bad times”)… there was one show that was initially supposed to be called “Alles nur aus Liebe” (roughly: “all just because of love”). The name was eventually dropped for obvious reasons 😉

          • Acronymous Bosch

            Write the article again…this time use the correct terminology…maybe it will make sense.

            What an L7!

          • I think the edit will do fine.

          • Acronymous Bosch


    • r.d. watkins

      Funny article. Thanks. To be even more linguistically annoying, what you’re mostly referring to aren’t acronyms or abbreviations, but are actually called initialisms. So for those keeping track at home: acronyms (initials of multiple words that form a new word e.g., LASER, or the ASS in the article), abbreviations (a shortened version of a longer word, e.g., Dr. for Doctor), and initialisms (initials of words that are pronounced as a sequence of letters, e.g., T2 or MTV). Does everyone hate me now?

      • Actually, no. Knowledge is power and I appreciate learning something I didn’t know (or should have known).

        • JS

          Hmm, abbreviations were there before T2. ST:TMP, for instance. It definitely has gotten worse, though. AI = American Idol? I would have thought Artificial Intelligence (which the Fox show lacks – intelligence, that is)!

          • Until blogging, I honestly had never seen Star Trek: The Motion Picture initialised to ST:TMP.

          • Water

            Seriously? You’d rather see someone write “Dark Knight” or “The Dark Knight” over and over and over and over again rather than an occasional TDK? I’m cool with it (and I know you will be too) if it’s done in the name of mixing it up.

            Btw, abbreviating any movie to a single letter is really friggin stupid, even in a hypothetical exaggeration. It’s just as lazy as the joke you’re trying to make.

          • Yes, I would. Or at least abridge it rather than initialise it. Instead of repeating The Dark Knight on second reference, one could simply say Knight. It’s less confusing and annoying.

            But if it’s the first reference of your post, no matter how many times it’s been referenced in a blog, it should be spelled out completely.

          • Stranger

            Well, it may not be inherently bad but if you will mention it frequently you should spell it out in full first then put it as an abbreviation in brackets. That has some clarity. For example Gone with the Wind (GWTW). From thereforth people know what GWTW is and stands for.

  • I flat out refuse to shorten the titles of movies by using initialisms. I can’t stand it. Write out the whole title: that’s part of the movie! I just read a blog comment where someone was talking about shows on FOX and they referenced “House,” “Fringe,” and “AI.” I had no clue what “AI” was until eight comments later where someone wrote out “American Idol.” Oh you were referencing a show I don’t watch and being an ASS about it.

    Great article.

  • joanieb

    Seriously? Whether an acronym, abbreviation or initialism they drive me nuts. Like the author of the article I try extraordinarily hard not be an ASS. I like things spelled out plain and simple. We certainly bastardize the English language enough when txting 2 UR BFF, but when writing, blog or otherwise, I prefer to maintain some semblance of what writing should look like. There is talk of doing away with the the comma. I love the comma. Without it there would be no inflection in writing, no pause, no drama. Yes, I digress. However, I believe that being an ASS is only the beginning. Of the end….

    • The comma is something with which I struggle. While I love the comma, and it certainly allows for a certain rhythm in writing, I feel I have a tendency to overuse it.

  • Buscemi

    The two worst examples of this:

    DOA: Dead Or Alive (DOA actually means “dead on arrival”)
    Chicken Run: CR1 (I get, you’re trying to parody the just as bad example of M:I2 but the reference is just typical DreamWorks laziness. I bet Nick Park wasn’t happy to see how they were promoting his movie.)

  • You could not be more right on this issue. Imagine how difficult it was to write 2000 words about Joseph Gordon-Levitt without once referring to him as JGL:

    • You could simply refer to him as Gordon-Levitt in subsequent references.

      • I treated it like I was the WSJ or the NY Times and gave him the Mr. prefix each time.

  • erised

    I know that I actually do like when people use the initialisms/acronyms, especially in forums. If I am in a “The Dark Knight” forum, I am not going to get upset if someone refers to it as TDK, nor if I was in another related forum. I agree that if it is somewhere that it wouldn’t be understood to represent “The Dark Knight”, then simply “the Dark Knight (TDK)” and then referencing TDK there after is fine. I think this might even be a basic 101 when it comes to forum writing. This is even common in normal essay writing. And I don’t see a problem with it being used to advertise a movie, and I agree with the other poster above with regards to how on earth did this ever ruin the movie in question? I don’t know anyone that goes “wow, Terminator 2 was so crap because they referred to it as T2!”. This should have been an article simply saying how much you hate it personally, not that it actually ruins anything’s merit.

    And I think there might have been other factors in Independance Day that contributed to people thinking ill of it – not so much that it was sometimes referred to as ID4. Sorry, but this article is silly to me.

    Oh and, you kind of lost me with the “overrated” comment you found the need to make about TDK

    • jerm

      I think a lot of you are kind of taking this too literal.
      Yeah it didn’t RUIN the performance or quality of the film, he is just mocking the inundation of marketing trends that try and be clever and hip in their efforts to send a message and make it cool to say the names of movies.
      I can see where in an article or on blogs or in discussion forums the want to use things like TDK or LOTR, it makes sense.
      Like when I say I live in the NW of the US.

      But I don’t say I live in PDX (for Portland) as some do.. that bugs me. Nor will I use the weird trendy neighborhood names.
      SoHo did it and that’s really all there should be.
      It isn’t destroying society, it doesn’t hurt anyone.
      It’s just dumb.

    • Sparkslark

      Saying a great movie is overrated doesn’t change the fact that it’s a great movie. Not your type of film? Sure, opinions are subjectional and reflect back on the individual themselves & their tastes and not the film itself since many people will see the film in a different way. But to say “‘this’ film is overrated” as if it were an objectionable fact that cannot be disputed is downright idiot. TDK (don’t act like you don’t know what it means), like many other great films, is a well made film that has gathered a lot of positive opinions from millions of people. Of course, like with all wildly popular films, a loud majority who doesn’t understand why people like it so much are going to speak up on the internet at various sites. But the internet is not a large community, and those with the privilage of writing their own article or have their own blog in order to express their opinion, no matter how well educated someone is in writing or arguing, are still just expressing their own opinion, which doesn’t not stand above anyone elses and vice versa. Because people who share negative opinions about these great films now have a means of expressing their voice, it becomes a “how loud and often can your voice be heard?” situation, and because we have the internet in this day and age, we get more of these “loud” voices about great films like TDK than we would have over great films like TGF (The Godfather) if the internet had existed back in that day, in which these same “loud” voices over that movie just needed an outlet like this to have their opinion heard. So no matter how many times you may read on the internet that “‘this’ movie really sucks” or “‘this’ movie is overrated”, it is not an accurate representation of the overall opinion of these films, so no matter how many times you read “TDK is an overrated movie” on a few websites, it doesn’t change the fact that in reality the movie has been embraced by an overwhelming majority of movie goers and critics alike. And the fact that so many people have embraced a movie like TDK begs the question “what kind of power does this movie have to generate such an overwhelmingly positive response?” If a film can generate this same level of positivity (notice that there are different levels of response for which different types of films are measured) with millions of people then doesn’t it follow that the film itself has a high quality to the way it is structured that is allowing for this level of positivity to occur again and again in the majority of people who have seen the film?

      And I agree with someone above who said that this should be an article about how *this* writer doesn’t like acronyms/abbreviations, and not an objective statement on how acronyms/abbreviations ruin a films merit. First off, people can call the film what ever they want but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still the same film. And second, this writer definately has a problem with distinguishing fact from his own opinion.

  • alex

    disagree a bit.

    If im on the IMDB Lord of the Rings forum and im discussing a particular topic I don’t want to have spell everything out. Its much easier to say FOTR, TTT, ROTK, if someone responds asking what the hell these things stand then chances are they aren’t smart enough to discuss the topic at hand or answer the question ive asked. Learn the topic before you participate.

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