The Internet exploded with giddiness yesterday at Bill Murray's "AMA" on Reddit.
The Verge's headline read: "Bill Murray talks about comedy, sandwiches, and 'Garfield' in Reddit AMA."
Mental Floss' headline read: "14 Things We Learned from Bill Murray's Reddit AMA."
I love Bill Murray, and I loved reading all the things he revealed in his AMA.
The only problem was I didn't know what "AMA" meant. To me, it means American Medical Association. Am I the only one who didn't know it also stood for "Ask Me Anything"? And furthermore, why didn't The Verge or Mental Floss define the term anywhere in their articles?
I'm from the school of the thought that says you should define your acronyms and initialisms at least once in your article. My reasoning: Babies are born every day, and they deserve to have those initials spelled out at least once in their lives. (Somebody remind me which textbook that came from. Strunk and White? Woe Is I?)
But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. As Andy Bechtel reminded me, audience plays a part in the decision to explain terms. Andy, who is a journalism professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and blogs at The Editor's Desk, told me he wasn't familiar with AMA until a few months ago.
"But on the first day of class this semester, I used that word, and all my students understood it," he said.
Nick Jungman, director of student media at the University of Oklahoma, had this to say on the subject:
It speaks to something I always try to impress on my editing students: The "rules" of style are always relative -- relative to the standards of the publication you're editing, and relative to the expectations and capacity of your intended audience.
But what about twerking?
When America had its conniption fit over Miley Cyrus' provocative performance, even major media outlets like CNN (whose audience includes more than just Millennials) committed the same sin: They talked about twerking as if everyone was familiar with the term. According to Urban Dictionary, it means "the rhythmic gyrating of the lower fleshy extremities in a lascivious manner with the intent to elicit sexual arousal or laughter in one's intended audience."
Since that's exactly what Miley Cyrus did on stage, it's good to use a precise term for it. But why exclude out-of-touch people like me by assuming all your readers know what it means? I can't be the only 36-year-old in the world who didn't know what twerking meant.
Adding insult to injury, some sites even joked about the fact that people Googled "What is twerking?" in the aftermath of Cyrus' performance on the VMAs.
And, by the way, that stands for Video Music Awards.