Denny’s Daily Zinger: Sloppy Users of Abbreviations and Acronyms

What the heck does the "O" in "GMO" stand for, anyway?

I don’t know what I think about genetically modified foods. I read somewhere they will save the planet from universal starvation. Or do they violate God’s plan, and are they dangerous?
I figured I could get up to speed on the subject in a story in The Wall Street Journal last Thursday by Annie Gasparro and Jacob Bunge:

Vermont to Enact GMO Food-Labeling Law

Throughout the story the writers kept using the term “GMO.”

“GM” stands for “genetically modified.”

“What’s the “O”?

Nowhere in the story was “GMO” defined.

I got totally sidetracked searching all over the Internet for GMO.

About Abbreviations and Acronyms
Universally understood abbreviations and acronyms are okay to use without explanation: U.N., ATM, FYI, NBC, NATO, PIN, D-Day, PR, P.S., etc.

With an unfamiliar term such as “GMO,” two thoughts:

  • If all your readers are farmers and scientists it’s okay to use GMO.
  • If your writing is for non-experts, it’s rude to use an unfamiliar abbreviation and not define it.
  • Even if defined at first usage, it’s equally rude to spring it on the reader 30 pages later without a reminder of what it stands for. The reader is forced to stop reading and go look for the definition. Concentration is broken and the reader feels like a dope.

Takeaways to Consider

  • Annie Gasparro and Jacob Bunge are sloppy journalists who don’t think of their readers.
  • Their Wall Street Journal editor is incompetent.
  • We are all a mouse-click away from oblivion.
  • The “O” stands for organism.

Denny Hatch ‘s new book is “Write Everything Right!” Pat Friesen writes, “This book is guaranteed to help you fine-tune your writing skills whatever you write. Denny’s wit and craftsmanship as an experienced writer/author shine through on every page.” Click here to download (opens as a PDF) and read the first three chapters FREE. The title is also available on Kindle. Reach Denny at

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

Related Content
  • George Macedo

    Thanks Denny. I’m often exasperated by jargon, the gorgon of all languages. Try using BS marketing acronyms in a meeting with engineers and watch them all turn to stone. Years ago, Rosser Reeve’s "USP" (that’s Unique Selling Proposition for the youngins) was a widely understood and accepted term, and then some clever marketer recycled it into a "Purple Cow." In corporate culture, this code is often developed simply to keep others in the dark or sound hip, and if you don’t know the new code you are not welcome! I actually have a client that has 2 competing departments using different acronyms for the same thing, and 2 homonyms (SAS and SaaS) that constantly muddle meetings. As a pilot, I often use my training as a metaphor for many aspects of my life. I can tell you how vital it is to speak on the radio in a concise, clear and unambiguous manner. At least no lives have been lost crashing a meeting with confusing slang or ruining prose, yet.

  • T. Gemelli

    Perhaps another takeaway is how distant the author is from common mainstream issues well covered in the WSJ, NYT and other newspapers written above the fifth grade reading level. (To help you out; WSJ = Wall Street Journal and NYT = New York Times). Not all writing is meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Ironically, the author suggests the editor is incometent just because he is befuddled by a simple acronym and most readers would not be. Additionally, he provides ‘two thoughts’ yet has three thoughts or bullet points. This is sloppy and appears to be a weak attempt at creating a writing lesson out of a bad example.

  • JerryS

    Denny, I’m with you on this! I spent quite a few years in the IT (Information Technology :) ) world, both hardware and software, where I think they have more acronyms and abbreviations than Bill Gates has dollars. And although I’m pretty familiar with the field, I still run into acronyms either I’ve never heard of or forgotten (yes, I’m at that age :) ). It’s especially bad when it’s in a newspaper or magazine article. And as for not using an acronym for 30 pages – often times I find myself looking back after even 3-4 pages, especially if the acronym is incidental to the rest of the article. It really does upset the flow of the story.