In praise of the TLA or three-letter acronym: Abbreviation tips for the modern office

by Simon Henry @simlington

According to the Urban Dictionary, ‘A TLA is a three-letter acronym for three-letter acronyms.’

If you’re saying: ‘WFT – CBA TBH.’ you’re already an advanced practitioner of the TLA.
If you’re still confused, a TLA is the first three letters of a three letter phrase. The above example actually means: ‘What the f***? Can’t be arsed, to be honest.’

Let’s see why we think, read and speak in threes.

History

Pythagoras said the number 3 was the noblest of all digits.

And who are we to argue? We don’t have (1) the knowledge, (2) the inclination or (3) the space to take issue with a great mathematician.

The Romans said: ‘Omne trium perfectum’ which means ‘Everything in threes is perfect’. Well, it was until I translated it and made it five.

The Rule of Three is also accepted in Riting & Reading as well as Rithmetic.

‘Blood, sweat and tears’. ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’. ‘F*** This S***’.

three-amigos

The Three Amigos is one of the top 10 films starring three comedians wearing massive sombreros

‘Sex, Lies & Videotape’. ‘The Three Amigos’. ‘Police Academy III’.

Four Little Pigs would lose its artistic tension. Goldilocks & The Two Bears would leave too much porridge. The One Stooge would be funny – but not hilarious.

Threes are best. But they’re rubbish when repeated

Location, location, location is bad telly.

Education, education, education is Blair’s boring politics.

www is really difficult to say. Don’t like difficult.

More about www

www is in a class of its own. It is the longest possible TLA to pronounce – at nine syllables.

In 1999, Douglas Adams said: ‘The world wide web is the only thing I know of whose shortened form takes three times longer to say than what it’s short for.’

Tragically, Douglas died before the www prefix started dying out itself.

More about TLAs

The number of possible three-letter abbreviations using the 26 letters of the alphabet from A to Z (AAA, AAB to ZZY, ZZZ) = 26×26×26 = 17,576.

But there are already duplicates like STD being a dialling code and a dirty disease. So in theory we could be looking at hundreds of thousands.

TLAs for the modern office

Luckily for you, I’ve culled the list to include only the most necessary TLAs in the modern office.

In my 20 years of working in an office, I’ve often heard TLAs tripping off other people’s tongues like renegade spit – but not having a clue what they’re on about.

So I hope this will provide a handy reference for when you’re stuck.

I’ve also included some XTLAs. XTLAs are extended TLAs, like WYSIWYG, which means ‘What you see is what you get’ that are longer than three letters.)

On balance, you’ve come off lightly with a list of around 150.

An A to Z of office TLAs (with some random other ones sprinkled in to keep morale up.)

ABH Actual bodily harm
AGM Annual general meeting
AKA Also known as
AOB Any other business
API Application programming interface
APR Annual percentage rate
ARPU Average revenue per user
ASAP As soon as possible
ATM At the moment / Automatic teller machine

BAC Blood alcohol content
BAU Business as usual
BCC Blind carbon copy
BEM Bug-eyed monster
BFG Big Friendly Giant
BFN Bye for now
BTW By the way
B2B Business to business
B2C Business to consumer

CAD Computer-aided design
CAPEX Capital expenditure
CBA Can’t be arsed
CEO Chief executive officer ( Exchange the middle letter as follows I information, M marketing, T technology, O operating, F finance)
COB Close of business
COD Cash on delivery
COP Close of play
CPS Crown Prosecution Service
CRM Customer relationship management
CTA Call to action

DIY Do it yourself
DNS Domain name server
DOA Dead on arrival
DOB Date of birth
DOJ Drunk on job
DOM Dirty old man
DOS Disk operating system
DPI Dots per inch

EBITDA Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation
ELO Electric Light Orchestra
EOD Every other day / End of day
EOP End of play
ETA Estimated time of arrival
ETD Estimated time of departure

FAQ(s) Frequently asked question(s)
FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation
FDR Franklin Delano Roosevelt
FOC Free of charge
FTP File transfer protocol
FSM Flying Spaghetti Monster
FUBAR F***ed up beyond all repair
FYC Fine Young Cannibals
FYI For your information

GBH Grievous bodily harm
GDP Gross domestic product
GHQ General headquarters
GMT Greenwich Mean Time
GNG Go – no go (This is an example of unacceptable office jargon.)
GNP Gross national product
GPS Global positioning system

HCF Highest common factor
HGV Heavy goods vehicle
HRH His/Her Royal Highness
HWM High water mark
HR Human resources
HQ Headquarters

ICU Intensive care unit
IOU IOU
IPO Initial public offering
ISA Individual savings account
ISP Internet service provider
IUD Intra-uterine device

JIT Just in time
JFDI Just f***ing do it

KFC Kentucky Fried Chicken
KPI Key performance indicator

LOL doesn't mean 'Lots of love'.

LOL doesn’t mean ‘Lots of love’.

LBW Leg before wicket
LCD Liquid crystal display / Lowest common denominator
LCM Lowest common multiple
LIFO Last in first out
LOL Laugh out loud. (Not lots of love. You could get into trouble if you use LOL when something tragic has happened.)

MPB Male pattern baldness
MPC Marginal propensity to consume
MPG Miles per gallon
MPH Miles per hour
MSG Mono sodium glutamate

NBG No bloody good
NBI Nothing but initials
NDA Non-disclosure agreement
NFG No f***ing good
NIC National Insurance contribution(s)
NSA No strings attached

OED Oxford English Dictionary
OMG Oh my god
ONO Or nearest offer
OOO Out of office
OOP Out of pocket
OPEX Operational expenditure
OTC Over the counter
OTT Over the top
OXO Gravy granules

P&L Profit & loss
PCM Please call me / Per calendar month
PDA Public display (of) affection
PDF Portable document format
PDQ Pretty damned quick
PFI Private Finance Initiative
PIN Personal identification number
PLC Public limited company
PMO Project management office / Program management office
POD Pay on delivery
POS Point of sale / Piece of s**t
PPC Pay per click
PPE Politics, philosophy and economics (what the Cabinet did at Oxford)
PSA Pleasant Sunday afternoon
PTC Propensity to call / churn / cry
PTO Please turn over

QED Quod erat demonstrandum (‘Which had to be demonstrated’)
QTD Quarter to date
QC Quality control

R&D Research & development
REM Rapid eye movement / Band name
RFP Request for proposal
RIP Requiescat in pace (‘May (s)he rest in peace’)
ROI Return on investment / Republic of Ireland
RPI Retail price index
RRP Recommended retail price
RSI Repetitive strain injury
RTFM Read the F***ing manual (particularly used by IT support staff)

SAE Stamped, addressed envelope
SBD Silent but deadly
SEO Search engine optimisation
SEP Someone else’s problem
SFA Sweet Fanny Adams / Sweet f*** all
SLA Service level agreement
SNAFU Situation Normal: All F***d Up
SOB Shortness of breath / Son of a bitch / Standard operating bullsh*t
SPOC Single point of contact:
STD Sexually transmitted disease / Subscriber trunk dialling
STFU Shut the f*** up
SWF Single white female

TBA To be announced
TBC To be confirmed
TBH To be honest
TLA Three-letter acronym /Three-letter abbreviation
TLC Tender loving care
TPA Tissue plasminogen activator
TTFN Ta ta for now

UHT Ultra heat treated
URL Uniform resource locator
USC Up shit creek
USCWAP Up shit creek without a paddle
USP Unique selling point
UTC Under the counter

VAT Value-added tax

WFH Work from home
WRT With respect to
WTF What the f***
WYSIAWYG What you see is almost what you get
WYSIWYG What you see is what you get
WYSINWNWYG What you see is nowhere near what you get
WYSINWYG What you see is not what you get
WYTYSYDG What you thought you saw, you didn’t get

YTD Year to date
YOLO You only live once
YOY Year on year

If you’ve made it this far, I’m astonished. You have character, commitment and probably too much time on your hands.

Feel free to send any favourite work-based TLAs for me to add to the list. And I hope you’ll start making your own.

Fun with TLAs?

I recently got my girlfriend to ask the waiter for a KBG. He looked at her blankly. KBG in my world at that moment meant ‘KnickerBockerGlory’. It meant nothing to him.

To add insult to injury, they’d stopped serving. So I didn’t even get a NBC (nice black coffee). Still, we left him a DST (decent-sized tip) anyway.

You see the fun you can have with TLAs? It’s especially good if you don’t get out much.

I’m told some of my other blogs are funny – especially the A-Z of office jargon and How mindfulness can save your career

There’s more about me here. And you can follow me @simlington on Twitter

With thanks to Briony Wilson and Tallulah Godivala.

Copyright 2014 Simon Henry @simlington

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20 thoughts on “In praise of the TLA or three-letter acronym: Abbreviation tips for the modern office

  1. Simon Henry Post author

    Thanks Scott – much appreciated! My favourites are towards the end – ‘WYTYSYDG What you thought you saw, you didn’t get’ creases me up every time because it’s so true 🙂

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  3. peter lynex-hopkins

    Sorry I haven’t got back to you earlier Simon – thoroughly enjoyed this. Many thanks for the index of TLA. I have to admit, I would rather eat a tarantula in a cowpat than ever use LOL! As an old codger, before all this malarkey began, when my mates and I were in the pub and closing time was approaching, someone would say: “Are we having an ABF then?”

    Absolutely Bloody Final!

    Look forward to hearing more from you.

    Pete

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  7. wodge

    Hello, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your blog site in Firefox, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping.
    I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, superb blog!

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    1. Simon Henry Post author

      Thank you 🙂 I’ll let WordPress know. Glad you like the blog. I never use Explorer now. Chrome, Safari and Firefox are my defaults. Strange how quickly our habits change.
      Anyway thank you!

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