I say STD, you think FTD

Today’s Zits, with an exchange between Walt and Connie Duncan about their son Jeremy’s experience in his human biology class:

Jeremy said “STD”, Walt could dredge up only “FTD”; well, the initialisms are phonologically very close.

(On “FTD”:

FTD Group, Inc. (FTD), also trading as Florists’ Transworld Delivery is a floral wire service, retailer and wholesaler based in Downers Grove, Illinois, in the United States. FTD was founded as Florists’ Telegraph Delivery in 1910, to help customers send flowers remotely on the same day by using florists in the FTD network who are near the intended recipient. (link))

Initialisms are wonderful for brevity, but of course brevity comes at the cost of clarity: abbreviation is likely to introduce ambiguity. In this case, there are a large number of interpretations for “STD” as an initialism, among them:

Banco Santander, S.A. (STD on NYSE); Software Tool & Die, an internet service provider in Boston MA; Security Tools Distribution, a Linux-based security tool; and Standard Deviation

Only a few of these are pluralizable — most are proper names — but some are, and those provide other possible readings for Jeremy’s complaint. Not that I think he was grossed out by the standard deviations in his human biology class.

3 Responses to “I say STD, you think FTD”

  1. Sissy Says:

    Trained sexual health educators generally use the term “STI”, sexually transmitted infection, because it’s more accurate. Either he was taught by an untrained (or outdated) educator, or the author is only 20 years ahead of Walt.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      This is one of those technical language vs.ordinary language things. STD has become the everyday-language term. Sexual health educators might (or might not) succeed in replacing this now-everyday usage by their new replacement. (I note, once again, that LABELS ARE NOT DEFINITIONS.)

  2. The Ridger Says:

    STI? Of course, I’m older than Walt (maybe, sometimes he seems to be recalling the 60s as his college days, in which case I’m not, but then that’s comicdom’s frozen timeline danger (like Nero Wolfe being the same age from 1934 to 1974)) but I’ve only ever heard STD.

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