Think Twice Before Using an Acronym for a Name


2000px-Flag_of_Ireland.svgDeposit Interest Retention Tax – that’s what the Irish government formally named the tax levied on interest earned in bank accounts. In practice, the government and its taxpayers call it DIRT.

It must be somewhat satisfying for Irish citizens to get to pass judgment on the tax every time they invoke its name, but somehow we don’t think catharsis was what the Revenue Commission had in mind when they came up with this doozy. Rather, we think it’s a case of monumentally bad naming.

Presumably the Irish Government would like people to see paying tax as their contribution to civil society rather than a forced financial bloodletting. DIRT doesn’t quite accomplish this goal. Fortunately for the government, the tax is deducted from the interest earnings at the source, by the banks themselves, and paid directly to the Revenue Commission.

In future, maybe the Irish can take a cue from the USA PATRIOT Act. Didn’t know it was an acronym? Indeed, its full formal name is the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001. (in truth, it’s probably a backronym)

More commonly known as the Patriot Act, the name is good precisely because very few people know the acronym – they think of it simply as a name.  And that’s the standard that makes or breaks an acronym as a name – whether it can stand on its own, independent of its constituent parts.

PATRIOT Act? Gives us the chills.

DIRT? Not so much.

Thinking of an acronym to name your organization, product, service or piece of legislation? Think more along the lines of DART, DREAM Act or Captcha, and less along the lines of SUX or ASTAG.

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