Winning English - Mastering Idioms, Slang, and References


It’s very common in all languages to create new, shorter words out of longer phrases. Usually, the shorter words use the first letter of each word in the phrase. Today, I highlight a few English examples.

Imagine that you work in manufacturing at your company. A colleague sends you an email, and the first three letters in the subject are FYI. For example, “FYI - Marketing is launching its new campaign today.” You think to yourself, “That’s good information to have. I better make sure we can keep up with sales.”

“FYI” is a shortened form of the phrase “for your information”. When someone emails you or tells you something “FYI”, it means they think this information could possibly affect you. You might decide that it does not affect you, but at least your colleague thought you should know.

By the way, “FYI” is technically called an initialism. You pronounce it by saying each letter - also known as an initial - on its own.

Next, I’ll introduce an acronym, which also uses just the letters, but is pronounced like a word.

After you read that FYI email, you decide to make some calls. You find out that your production line managers think that lots of new sales will cause problems. You think to yourself, “This isn’t good. We better get this fixed ASAP!”

“ASAP” is a shortened form of “as soon as possible”. But note how it’s pronounced like a word - ay-sap - instead of saying each letter separately.

Interestingly, ASAP comes from the US military. In fact, that’s true of many acronyms in English.

Back to our story. Since you are worried production won’t keep up with sales, you decide to make a few more calls. You call several colleagues you know in marketing, but they don’t answer. You leave voicemails. After you hang up, you think to yourself, “This is not a good time for the marketing people to go MIA!”

As I mentioned, many of these shortened words come from the military. “MIA” does, too. It means “missing in action”. Originally, it referred to soldiers who could not be found anywhere. They could have been captured or killed, or maybe they deserted. (That is, they ran away without permission.) But “MIA” is now quite commonly used to refer to anyone who can’t be found or contacted - especially people who have some sort of duty to perform.

You finally get a call back from marketing. Your colleague tells you, “Sorry, we were all in a meeting. But don’t worry. This marketing campaign is SOP. It should just keep sales at their current levels. It’ll be OK!”

“SOP” means “standard operating procedure” and is used to describe when things are normal. Note that while normal is often good, sometimes it isn’t, and people will say “SOP” ironically. For example, “Well, production and marketing had a misunderstanding again. That’s SOP.”

Finally, we have “OK”, which is understood globally to mean that all is well, and often also gets expressed using a thumbs-up (like in the animated image above).

Thanks for reading Winning English! Make sure to listen to the podcast, as well, to reinforce your learning. Also, remember to like the posts and share comments. I love to hear from readers and listeners. Talk soon!