Acronyms and abbreviations are part of life in the industry, but there are signs that communication is beginning to crumble under the sheer weight of jargon
TLAs are getting OTT. Three lettet acronyms and abbreviations are becoming so prevalent in our business that we have started to speak a cryptic language of letters and codes, intelligible only to a few. Here is a sample – real – conversation, with annotations for the uninitiated.

"So, is everything AOK (alright and OK) with this PFI (private finance initiative) then?"

"We've just reached ITN (invitation to negotiate) stage, and we're wondering how best to leverage our USP (unique selling point) within the JV (joint venture) for maximum benefit. We hope to move on to BAFO (best and final offer) ASAP (as soon as possible)."

It seems that the PFI – or the public–private projects otherwise known as PPPs – has introduced a new vocabulary to the teams trying to unravel the mysteries of the selection process. A cursory glance through any construction magazine (the NCE or BSJ anyone?) will reveal a host more TLAs with which we baffle ourselves.

They range from the entirely recognisable VAT, the straightforward R&M, the regularly eulogised KPIs, through to the titles of the CIC (Construction Industry Council) or CIB (Construction Industry Board) – which is soon to be superseded by the ETB (Engineering and Technology Board). We then reach the downright unlikely RIW – which as far as I can ascertain is a tremendously successful flat roofing product called Really Is Waterproof.

In technical circles, TLAs are even more prevalent. Building services engineers are particularly prone to them; so yes, there is a difference between an MCB (miniature circuit breaker) and an MCCB (moulded case circuit breaker).

In trying to make our industry co-operative, not to mention more attractive to young people, the elimination of unnecessary jargon must be a benefit

Add this to the already abbreviated world of contract documentation, such as JCT80 (does anyone remember that this stands for Joint Contractors Tribunal, 1980 version?) which may require the application of LAD (liquidated and ascertained damages). Then there's the happy realm of QS (quantity surveyor) measurement speak, where your BQs (bills of quantity) may be measured using SMM7 (standard method of measurement seven), or perhaps CMS6?

Survey drawings are another rich source of TLAs, from the well known AOD (above ordnance datum), which occasionally appears as ODN (ordnance datum Newlyn), to the manhole mystifyingly labelled UTL, which I recently found out to my cost stands for "unable to lift".

Indeed, given abbreviated pipe descriptions, such as 225 mm dia AWA SWS (225 mm diameter Anglia Water Authority storm water sewer), survey drawings, when issued without a key, become an impenetrable collection of apparently random letters scattered across the sheet like an accident in a Scrabble game.