1. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Acronyms in dialogue

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Catrin Lewis, Nov 9, 2015.

    How do you/yinz/ya'll handle acronyms in dialogue?

    I've got my male protagonist telling my female protagonist the tale of how he ended up in her home state for college after returning from active duty in Vietnam, instead of taking advantage of in-state tuition in the state where he was raised. The relevant part of the exchange goes like this:

    “No, I went back to --------, moved back into the family apartment. Reapplied to ---U. This time they said— well, never mind what they said.”
    “They turned you down?” She was aghast.
    “They did. Nothing personal. Some bureaucratic SNAFU.”
    It's been pointed out to me that I should write it as snafu. That makes sense, as that's how he would pronounce it: as a word, not as separate letters. On the other hand, as an Army vet he would be very conscious of what the letters stand for, and though he might say "snafu," he surely would be thinking, "Situation Normal: All F----d Up."

    What do you think?
     
  2. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think as a reader it is clearer in capitals. Not everyone is familiar with certain acronyms, but in upper case at least they are aware that it is an acronym.
     
  3. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Damn. I have a book that uses SNAFU in dialogue but it's on audiobook so I can't tell you how it was written. The speaker does clarify immediately what it stands for though. For what it's worth, the audiobook narrator says "snafu" rather than spelling out the letters.

    I think it's Afraid by Jack Kilborn but something is also telling me Phantoms by Dean Koontz. Argh.

    Sorry, that turned out to be completely unhelpful. I tried...

    EDIT: No, I got it! It's Infected by Scott Sigler. I think it's when Dew is talking to Murray and he says "it's a big snafu!" and then it might be the narrator that explains what it stands for. If you're that interested you could find a print version and see how Sigler wrote it.
     
  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's a tricky one. If you'd said something about the UN or the USA, I'd say definitely use caps. But your character is using 'snafu' as if it's a word that means 'messed up,' rather than an acronym ...which in most people's vocabulary it is. It's like 'ok' or 'okay,' isn't it? Written in caps, it kind of looks like the character shouted it. I suppose it's OK within context ...but maybe try it out on a few unsuspecting betas, to see if they react to it.
     
  5. Greenwood
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    Greenwood Active Member

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    I must say that even though I did not know the meaning of it, in this context I kind of understood what he ment. Perhaps if you are going to use the term more often you could somehow explain it to the reader through dialogue or some other way?

    I kind of interpreted it as usual bureaucratic bullsh*t, which made some sence I guess, allthough thats not really the meaning of it. :)
     
  6. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I read Andy McNabb every now and then (he's like my Nora Roberts :bigoops:) and he seems to use capital letters with acronyms. Although I think it'd be okay not to use them, in dialogue that is.

    From 'The New Recruit':
    "Not a thing. Is this going to kick off soon or are we just stuck out here freezing out asses off as some joke by McKenzie and the reset of the happy Officer and NCO club?"
    "And because of it you're going to be more exposed to the threat of IEDs..."

    Perhaps for the sake of clarity I'd capitalize it, so the reader gets a better idea that it's an acronym instead of some foreign language or something?
     
  7. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hmm. This isn't something I think about very much...

    I think it's probably a case-by-case basis, really. Words that started as acronyms have become regular words--I'm thinking things like scuba, radar, and laser. But you never (or hardly ever) see these words written like acronyms.

    I'd say if it doesn't read like a word or is the name of an organization or something (NAFTA, WHO, NAACP, NCAA, CBS, etc) then it should definitely be all caps. But if it's an acronym that has become or is becoming a word itself (like SNAFU) you probably have some leeway. I doubt either option would raise too many eyebrows. I certainly wouldn't bat an eye if I saw snafu. The spell checker didn't even put a red squiggly under it.
     
  8. Bookster
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    Bookster Banned

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    I'd use lower-case, no italics. Snafu has sort of established actual word status, I think, even if it began as an acronym. I'd agree NCO and IED should be capitalized.
     
  9. PapaGhanda
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    PapaGhanda Member

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    I don't think you should use them in dialogue. Perhaps keep it to thought form.
     
  10. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Ah but people do use acronyms in speech, so why would you avoid it?

    God, in the company I work for, we use acronyms approximately twice a minute.
     
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  11. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    Same here. With a job in technology, I can't remember the last time I used a real word.

    Acronyms are part of language. People speak language. It's perfectly natural for people to use acronyms in dialog, and I don't see any real benefit in avoiding it.

    Besides, if acronyms weren't allowed in dialog, sci-fi characters would be totally screwed when they want to talk about those blasty rays of light that come out of their guns.
     
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  12. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    To me it reads easier in lower-case. This is because I don't think it's immediately obvious to all people that SNAFU is an acronym in the first place even though they might know the term. This may cause them to think SNAFU is a backronym, which then turns into frustration as they don't know what it stands for.
     

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