Ambiguous abbreviations

A little over a year ago, the Health Quality Council of Alberta launched a campaign to eliminate abbreviations in health care, arguing that their inherent ambiguity could lead to devastating consequences in life-or-death situations. Does DOA mean “date of admission” or “dead on arrival”? And in fast-paced health care settings especially, using these abbreviations increases the risk of misinterpretation.

Fortunately, most of us sweary language lovers live and work in more relaxed environments, and we can exploit the ambiguity of abbreviations for entertainment. Here are some favourite examples, in alphabetical order, taken from real sources. Leave yours in the comments! (Mouse over the headings if you’re not familiar with what they euphemize.)


Persistent AF may degenerate into permanent AF.

Some medical professionals use Afib to refer to atrial fibrillation, and although this short form is about 1/15th as frequently used in writing as AF, it might gain some ground thanks to the growing popularity of as fuck.


“We’ve had a number of vacancies as everybody knows over the last seven years that have driven overtime,” said BFD Commissioner Garnell Whitfield Jr.

To be fair, being the commissioner of the Buffalo Fire Department is a big fucking deal.


This confirms the contention that DTF stimulates muscle blood flow immediately after treatment and this may account for its beneficial effects in certain conditions.

( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

(That’s deep transverse friction, a type of massage that is said to promote soft-tissue repair…)


Observation of appropriate ED patients in a dedicated ED observation area, instead of a general inpatient bed or an acute care ED bed, is a “best practice” that requires a commitment of staff and hospital resources.

…because what erectile dysfunction patients want most is observation.

Some places prefer ER (emergency room) or A&E (accident and emergency) to ED (emergency department). I wonder why?



Adobe’s FML policy will run concurrently with any applicable benefit programs (e.g. STD, VDI, SDI, etc.).Adobe’s FML policy will run concurrently with any applicable benefit programs (e.g. STD, VDI, SDI, etc.).

A twofer! From the section on family and medical leave in Adobe’s benefits manual. See also STD.


This may explain why the GTFO group had a significantly lower proportion of decreases in IGF-I compared to the GT group (p=0.047; Fischer’s exact test).

From a study about green tea (GT) and fish oil (FO) supplementation for prostate cancer treatment.


Once quorum is achieved, all JFC motions and recommendations shall pass with a simple majority of members present.

From the Operating Procedures & Policies of University of Iowa’s Joint Finance Committee.


On a micro level, retailers consider a POS to be the area where a customer completes a transaction, such as a checkout counter.

And some part-of-speech tagging for the linguists:

The tagger can be retrained on any language, given POS-annotated training text for the language.


Asymptomatic patients and patients with angina had a significantly better survival than patients with SOB.

…in this case referring to shortness of breath—but we’d all survive better without SOBs.


If you know the debt collection Statute of Limitations for your state, then you can start to research the SOL on any debt you may have.

This one’s oddly appropriate.


The STD benefit will also be non-taxable when the employer pays the premium on behalf of an employee, but the amount of the paid premium is treated as taxable income to the employee.

I’m sure people in the insurance industry love this short-term disability joke and aren’t tired of hearing it at all.


Although a study demonstrated that STFU improves the patients’ compliance for DDM, little remains known about the impact and reliability of STFU in this setting.

Whether it means “short-term follow up” or “shut the fuck up” is probably what separates the good doctors from the bad.


Three teams were invited to South Korea as part of the WTF programme.

This site also encourages you to send your taekwondo-related news to

18 thoughts on “Ambiguous abbreviations

  1. Nancy Friedman March 1, 2017 / 1:12 am

    In retail jargon, POS stands for “point of sale,” aka a cash register (usually).


  2. GirlWanders March 1, 2017 / 4:25 pm

    Seattle pretty amazingly put in the South Lake Union Trolley/Tram in 2010-11, which prompted local entrepreneurs to put out t-shirts at local coffeehouses that said, proudly, “I rode the S.L.U.T.” and “Ride the S.L.U.T!”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. rcalmy March 2, 2017 / 2:28 am

    In 2009, the Wisconsin Tourism Federation deemed it fit to change their name to the Tourism Federation of Wisconsin, for reasons that I’m pretty sure y’all can guess.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jaap March 2, 2017 / 10:29 am

    Similar to POS, the use of POC for Proof of Concept can often be said to stand for Piece of Crap instead.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. sesquiotic March 7, 2017 / 7:54 pm

    My brother and I used to use NFL for “not fucking likely,” but that particular verbal football hasn’t caught on as widely.


  6. Deryn March 22, 2017 / 12:54 pm

    There’s a certain amount of crossover between users of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and aficionados of Cock and Ball Torture. Just enough to make it a perfect candidate for this list.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Kate Bunting March 23, 2017 / 4:59 pm

    To Brits of my generation, STD suggests Subscriber Trunk Dialling (what they called it when it became possible to dial your own long-distance calls.) In those days what is now called STD was VD. When I spent a year in Vaud, Switzerland as a student I found it disconcerting that all the car registrations included the letters VD.


    • Ingeborg S. Nordén May 3, 2017 / 8:48 pm

      In Swedish the initials VD stand for verkställande direktör, the equivalent of “CEO” (chief executive officer) in the business sense. I wonder if any Swedes with white-collar jobs ever embarrassed their Anglophone colleagues back in the 60s and 70s, by forgetting the right abbreviation: “You’ll have to negotiate with our VD about that”?


  8. Gloria Hanlon March 29, 2017 / 1:04 pm

    I have a subscription to the Parcel Motel service and I always find it (at least slightly) amusing to receive packages prominently labeled PML…


  9. Nancy Friedman March 31, 2017 / 6:27 pm

    One more POS: it’s lexicography shorthand for “parts of speech.” I was reminded of this by Kory Stamper’s wonderful new book, “Word by Word.” Software that identifies parts of speech is called a POS Tagger.


    • Iva Cheung March 31, 2017 / 6:29 pm

      (Both your POS contributions were in the original article, BTW.) ;P


      • Nancy Friedman April 1, 2017 / 9:17 pm

        Gah. I read it twice!


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