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Attack of the acronyms

Attack of the acronyms

No, it's not a yoga chant (that's "aum") or a rock band (that's REM) or any of the characters in Star Wars. It's not even "original equipment manufacturer", although that's what its letters stand for. An OEM is a reseller.

That's right. In OEM we have not just an acronym that a good many people aren't familiar with, but we also have a double jeopardy of sorts.

Even if you know what its words are, you still won't know what an OEM is.

Acronyms by their nature risk alienating readers. And knowing what their letters stand for doesn't always help. (Just because a publication spells out DHTML as Dynamic Hypertext Markup Language doesn't mean the reader has any idea what that is, barring further explanation.) But at least in those cases, the words bear some relation to function. OEM's words are about 90 degrees off.

For the record, a reseller is a company that buys components from other companies and uses them to build products. So a computer reseller is a company that buys chips, motherboards, hard drives and all the other things that go into a PC and puts them together. Indeed, that could be considered manufacturing, but since the OEM doesn't build all the parts, it hardly makes sense to call it the original equipment manufacturer. Yet our industry does.

And adding insult to injury, OEM often isn't just a noun. It frequently joins the ranks of other linguistic affronts - such as impact and priority - in which nouns are heinously turned into verbs. So the guy who says, "This product is going to be OEMed" is probably not only confounding many of his listeners, but he's also committing an offensive - or should I say criminal - act.

What to do? I proffer my usual advice: exercise restraint and use the real word - reseller - instead. Even better, explain that you mean a components assembler when you mean OEM the noun, or that your product is going to be sold to a manufacturer for inclusion in its goods when you mean OEM the verb. That will put it all together for your audience.


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