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Monica Dunford | USLHC | USA

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ATLAS Real Language

The main language within ATLAS is not English or French or Italian. It is the language of acronyms. Ask any new person what the most difficult thing about ATLAS is and they will say understanding what people are saying. Oh yes, they can understand all the words and syllables but not the encoded meaning of the acronyms.

The number of acronyms is a little out of control. We have webpages devoted to our acronym definitions. ATLAS itself is a bit of a kluge of an acronym.

ATLAS: A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS

I think this is a great example of deciding on the acronym first and then settling on the meaning.

Additionally with so many acronyms, you end up having acronyms that are phonetically the same. Such as

DAQ: Data Acquisition System
DAC: Digital to Analog Converter

This leads to conversations like

Person one: I am trying to measure the exact setting of the DAC
Person two: But we know what value the DAQ is setting. It is written out to the log file.
Person one: What are you talking about?
Person two: What are you talking about?
Person one: The DAC setting. D-A-C!
Person two: Oh. Right.

And then it is inevitable that you get to acronyms of acronyms. Like

RCD: ROD Crate DAQ

which fully stands for Read-Out Driver Crate Data Acquisition System

And then there are acronyms like this….

OTSMOU (pronounced Ots-moo) meaning the Operation Task Sharing and Maintenance and Operation Update.

This is my personal favorite acronym of all time. This acronym is genius for so many reasons. a) Seeing the full meaning of the acronym offers the reader zero insight about what exactly this is. ‘Maintenance and Operation Update’? Is that a group of people or a software package? It is unclear. b) The word ‘Operation’ is used twice. c) The acronym just exudes management. It is difficult to create an acronym that once spoken instantly conveys the image of management to the listener. Yet, this acronym accomplishes just that. And d) the person inventing this name clearly must still be laughing.

My only comfort is that if people (management excepted) continue to stick to the TLA (Three Letter Acronym) rule, we will eventually run out of combinations.

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