Know Your Audience When Using Acronyms

April 30, 2015

SHARING TOOLS        | Print Subscribe

Are you a CAFM, CPFP, or CEM(1)? Do you belong to MEMA or FLAGFA, or the NCSFA(2)? Do you use CNG or LNG(3) in your fleet? Do you even know what I’m talking about?

Recently, Mike Antich, our editorial director and associate publisher, sent me a study about government lingo and how much people hate it. A study conducted by Govlish, an online tool that analyzes and aggregates what it calls the “government maze” of terms, found that three-quarters of participants ranked government terminology as either “insider jargon” or “mumbo jumbo.” What’s worse is that these participants said search engines weren’t a very good tool for finding out what the acronyms meant. The majority of participants were government workers, government contractors, and nonprofit organization professionals, and many had been at their jobs for years. While Govlish states this study was small and select, and results were preliminary, I understand the frustration that people feel when they’re faced with a plethora of acronyms they don’t understand. You know what I mean — your eyes glaze over and you start thinking about lunch.

I’ll be the first to say that the use of acronyms in the fleet industry is widespread and confusing. Just look at the footnotes at the bottom of this page! We at Government Fleet encounter and use plenty of acronyms, but I still find myself Googling some terms, and sometimes not finding the right one. Oftentimes, the person bringing up the acronym doesn’t know exactly what it stands for. That’s fine if I also know it, but confusing if I don’t.

In Defense of the ‘Mumbo Jumbo’

Despite all this, I’d like to defend the industry’s love of acronyms. Public fleet management is very specific, and there are some words people in the industry just need to know to talk to other fleet professionals. Hardly anyone is going to say, repeatedly and in conversation, compressed natural gas. They might say it once, they might call it just natural gas, but they won’t say the full term multiple times. Same with the Certified Public Fleet Professional certification from the American Public Works Association. That’s a mouthful, right?

You can’t keep up with all the acronyms, but there’s no shame in asking what they are (or looking them up later). But I believe they’re necessary as long as you don’t get obnoxious about it. After all, you have to know what LOL means when you talk to certain people, just as you have to know what CNG means when you talk to fleet people.

However, you also have to be aware of your audience. The mayor and council members might not know what LPG(4) is, the risk management department doesn’t know what a CFMO(5) is, and your significant other has probably never heard of CAFM (unless you have one). Don’t confuse them.

We at Government Fleet do our best to explain acronyms to readers on first reference. And while we’ll use the acronyms specific to our industry, we’ll shield you from the unnecessary ones.

About a year ago, when I was writing an article about vehicle procurement, a source told me her procurement-s­pecific certifications, which consisted of four letters I had never seen together before. I said, “no way,” and chose not to include them in the final article. The fleet industry has enough of our own acronyms to remember — we don’t need any more, thank you very much.

What are your thoughts about fleet acronyms? Do you have a funny or frustrating story to share?

(1) Certified Automotive Fleet Manager certification from the NAFA Fleet Management Association; Certified Public Fleet Professional certification from the American Public Works Association; Certified Equipment Manager certification from the Association of Equipment Management Professionals    

(2) Municipal Equipment Maintenance Association; Florida Association of Governmental Fleet Administrators; National Conference of State Fleet Administrators   

(3) Compressed natural gas; Liquefied natural gas    

(4) Liquefied petroluem gas, also known as propane autogas   

(5) Certified Fleet Management Operation certification from the Government Fleet Management Alliance


  1. 1. Robert Peck [ May 11, 2015 @ 11:49AM ]

    Well said! When I was younger (60+ years ago) there was an MD, an RN, and a DDS. The only thing I knew about an acronym was what was taught in English class, but no one used them. You are so right, in that one should know their audience before brandishing acronyms in their writing or conversation. A good example was my supervisor came to us as retired from the military. He would send e-mails burdened with acronym jibberish that no one could figure out. I finally had to remind him that this isn't the military and we don't know nor do we care what those things mean. He doesn't use them anymore.

  2. 2. Steve Kibler [ May 12, 2015 @ 08:46AM ]

    I'll bet researching fleet industry related acronyms was fun, especially in the public sector like the military. Good job Thi. Several years ago, I received an inquiry from our Finance department asking me: "What BS material would you like to see in monthly accounting reports?" Of course like Mr. Peck, I too reflect back to the MD, RN and DDS era when "BS" only meant one thing... Wow was it a relief when I learned that to Finance it meant "Balance Sheet."

  3. 3. Matthew L. Kessler [ May 21, 2015 @ 08:39AM ]

    Reply to Steve Kibler: BS, obviously, also means Bachelor of Science

  4. 4. Earl H. Miller [ June 15, 2015 @ 12:50PM ]

    Some years ago I was to speak at a NAFA conference in Seattle. In the hotel was another conference NAAFA. National Association to Aid Fat Americans. I almost tried to register at the wrong conference.

  5. 5. Tracey R. Karrick [ June 15, 2015 @ 02:14PM ]

    Nice to know that there are a lot of us that realizes there are quite of few acronyms in our industry. I work for a Utility Company and to report to a Manager of "Electric Operations, I have to be careful in explaining what I am referring to as his mind set is "Electricity".

    Then too, I grew up in a racing family and since the late 60's a group was formed, CARB, standing for CENTRAL AUTO RACING BOOSTER which to this day still supports local area racetracks. I think of this and not CALIFORNIA AIR RESOURCES BOARD.


Comment On This Story

Comment: (Maximum 2000 characters)  
Leave this field empty:
* Please note that every comment is moderated.

Author Bio

Thi Dao

sponsored by

Executive Editor

Thi is the executive editor of Government Fleet magazine. She is interested in maintenance management and alternative fuels.


We offer e-newsletters that deliver targeted news and information for the entire fleet industry.


ELDs and Telematics

sponsored by
sponsor logo

Scott Sutarik from Geotab will answer your questions and challenges

View All

Sleeper Cab Power

Steve Carlson from Xantrex will answer your questions and challenges

View All