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Release: April 20, 2001

UI emer. Prof. compiles 14K entries for new abbrev. dict.

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- For years, Robert Wachal, an emeritus professor of linguistics in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts, has read personal ads for his own amusement. When, on occasion, he could not figure out the cryptic coding used by those who write them, he turned to a dictionary for help, but discovered that such abbreviations were not included in the listings.

He pursued this seemingly egregious omission and eventually presented a paper to the Dictionary Society of North America -- a group of academics and publishers all interested in the creation of dictionaries -- pointing out that the way the editors chose which abbreviations to include spoke volumes about their own biases. "I told them the choices were elitist, omitting abbreviations from real estate ads, dating ads, and car ads while including British abbreviations of the titles bestowed by the British monarch. Who ever uses those in this country?"

Shortly after that presentation, an editor from Houghton Mifflin, publisher of the American Heritage Dictionary, called Wachal and asked if he would edit the publishing house’s first-ever dictionary of abbreviations. He accepted the task without hesitation. The editors provided a list of 3,000 abbreviations appearing in the most recent edition of the Heritage Dictionary and asked Wachal to expand it to somewhere between 13,000 and 15,000 entries.

It took him nine months working nine hours a day five and a half days each week, but he came up with nearly 14,000 entries for Houghton Mifflin's "Abbreviations Dictionary", published in 2000. It contains many abbreviations that have been standard for years -- things like military titles, units of measurement, state and country abbreviations -- along with newer lingo brought on by the explosion of the Internet and technology, advances in medicine and creation of new drugs.

"I designed it for baby boomers in particular," he said, "people who need to know more about medical and technical terms."

Wachal included not just official abbreviations like CD-ROM, .com, DVD, DSL, ISP, ISDN but also less formal ones such as CYL (see you later) and LOL (laugh out loud) found in chat rooms and email messages.

He scoured newspapers, magazines, advertisements, crossword puzzles, the World Wide Web, and anywhere else he could think of seeking examples. ED was brought into popular usage in Bob Dole’s Viagra commercials. DWM, 4WD, and EIK came from classified ads for singles, cars, and houses, respectively. Popular culture references include dis and homie and hood. At times he thought he’d never accumulate the required number before his deadline, but then a new Web site or an out-of-town newspaper would turn up a whole new batch and he eventually reached the goal.

While the dictionary was in press, Wachal landed in the hospital for triple bypass surgery. The experience, he said, gave him a new appreciation for one of his dictionary entries -- CABG (pronounced "cabbage") for "coronary artery bypass graft."