Column: I hope I never quit learning


I hope I never quit learning.

When I discover something new, it excites me. It can be a fact or a scientific discovery or the sighting of a new species, or one though to be extinct. I also love new puns and jokes I’ve never heard before.

Learning is exciting.

I also hope I never start forgetting things. But that battle I fear is already lost.

A year ago, I decided to start using a calendar on a daily basis. I bought one last fall, one of those 16-month calendars. A week ago, I found it at the bottom of my junk mail box on my porch. It was never opened. I forgot all about it.

But seriously, how do you know you’re losing your memory? If you have no memory of something, how do you know it’s something you forgot?

Yeah, I know. Me too. Mind blown.

I guess Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia are like that. Which is why we are told to just play along with those who suffer from dementia. They are living in a reality we will never understand.

Anyway, back to my original premise.

I enjoy learning.

My favorite TV show growing up was Jeopardy. I thought I was pretty smart, until 7:30 p.m. week nights when Art Fleming or Alex Trebek showed me how much I didn’t know. Still, Jeopardy was a challenge and I learned from it. I have all kinds of useless information floating around in my head thanks to that show.

But I enjoyed learning.

During that time, I also learned how to make my family think I was a lot smarter than I truly was. While I knew I was OK at Jeopardy, my mom thought I was some kind of savant. At home, my family would watch Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune together in the family room. Mom was truly impressed at all the answers I know.

But I had a secret. I did have a pretty good memory, but I also was cheating.

In those days, local TV carried three CBS stations, two ABC stations and three more NBC stations. Jeopardy was on Channel 5 at 7 p.m. and Channel 10 at 7:30 p.m. Daily, I would watch the 7 p.m. Jeopardy in one room, then head to the family room to watch a repeat at 7:30 with my family.

It’s easy to appear smart when you already know the answers.

Learning is great, no matter how useless those facts may appear at the time. In my experience, that minutiae running around in my head made me the king of Trivial Pursuit years later.

Anyway, on Monday morning, I learned something new while perusing my weekend email. Typically, at least 75 percent of my email goes straight to the delete file. On Monday, a snipped of junk mail caught my eye before it was deleted. The topic really doesn’t matter, but it referred to the LGBTQ community. I have no problem with the group or the lifestyle, although as someone in the media, it is difficult to explain in a few words what Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (or Questioning) means in a short amount of space.

However, the email got me thinking about acronyms, so I did a little research.

You’ve heard the saying that all squares are rectangles, but all rectangles are not squares (or the other way around).

Well do my dismay, LGBTQ is really not an acronym. It is an initialism. Until Monday morning — to the best of my recollection — I had never heard, read or used the term initialism.

This is what I learned. According to the Merrian-Webster online dictionary

The confusion starts when we pronounce the letters of these abbreviations like a word, like NATO. The definition of acronym is “a word formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive parts or major parts of a compound term.” It means that acronyms can be differentiated from other abbreviations because they are pronounceable as words. Some acronyms are spoken so frequently that we begin to think of them as words, like radar (radio detection and ranging), scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus), and laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation). Other common acronyms are ASCII, UNICEF, DARPA, and the governmental terms POTUS, FLOTUS, and SCOTUS.

An initialism is an abbreviation formed from initial letters. Our online dictionary has entries for some 1,500 abbreviations that use only capital letters, like ACLU, BBQ, CPR, DIY, POV, PTSD, and YMCA. Acronym is a relatively new word made up of ancient parts. It entered the language around 1940, made from the Greek word akros, meaning “topmost” or “highest,” combined with -onym, from the Greek word onyma (“name” or “word”). In German, the term Akronym had been used since the 1920s.

Initialism is the older term, dating to the mid-1800s.

Some initialisms become acronyms by virtue of being spoken out loud frequently enough to become more like a word than a set of letters: both ASAP and LOL are frequently pronounced as words. Some are only partially pronounced, like HVAC.

Acronyms formed from the first parts of words (rather than just the initial letters) tend to become words themselves, like hazmat (hazardous materials) and motel (motor hotel). These are sometimes called blends by linguists, and arguments about whether the new word was formed from initial letters or blended word parts enter the realm of the philosophical.

Finally, some words are formed from spelling out or rendering pronounceable their initials, like emcee (MC) and seabee (construction battalion).

Because it’s frequently used to mean both kinds of abbreviations, a second definition of ​acronym​ reads, “​also​: an abbreviation (as FBI) formed from initial letters.” Which is a synonym of ​initialism​, FYI.

There you have it. All initialisms are acronyms, but not all acronymns are initialisms … or the other way around.

Clear as mud, right?

Anyway, I learned something new and as silly as it seems, it was exciting to me.

On a side, side, side note. I wrote earlier how I enjoyed watching TV. Am I the only one who learned the meaning of scuba during an episode of Family Ties. Alex was prepping his sister Mallory for a TV quiz show. I can hear Mallory repeating the phrase … self-contained underwater breathing apparatus … self-contained underwater breathing apparatus … self-contained underwater breathing apparatus … self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.

If you don’t remember, follow this link.

It doesn’t matter where you get your knowledge, just keep learning.

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Russ Kent is editor of the Galion Inquirer. Email him at rkent@aimmediamidwest.com

 

Russ Kent

Galion Inquirer

 

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