Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Alphabet Soup (Rant Warning)

Several months ago, I was assigned to work on a special project that involved the submission of résumés, among other things. I was more than a bit surprised to discover that the possession of a Ph.D. did not necessarily guarantee that the holder thereof knew how to write a résumé. One of the biggest problems with which I had to deal was the fact that some of the résumé-writers took it for granted that governmental and non-profit organizations knew what they were talking about. I spent several hours on the Internet trying to get the full names and/or addresses of organizations. “Schneider Children’s Hospital, NY?” You’ve got to be kidding! How about “Schneider Children’s Hospital, Long Island Jewish Medical Center, New Hyde Park, NY?” Noch besser (even better), some organizations were mentioned by acronym only. BJE?? Have you never had to submit a résumé to a non-Jewish organization in your life? Try “Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York.” And by the way, submitting a résumé full of acronyms isn’t acceptable even if the recipient can be expected to know what the acronyms mean. A résumé is supposed to be a formal, official document, not an e-mail to your boyfriend.

I found the same problem when I started posting on science fiction television message boards some years ago. The posts were full of such gems as “ROTFLMAO,” “IMHO,” and “BTW,” which turned out to mean “rolling on the floor laughing my a_ _ off,” “in my humble opinion,” and “by the way.” (This is a cordial invitation to my readers to submit as many of these “Internet abbreviations” as you can think of—I’d love to learn more of them and to share this information with my readers.)

Now I find myself in an even more interesting position as I read my way around the Jewish blogosphere. I must have been blogging for close to a year before some kind soul took pity on me and told me who RYBS was. Yes, I’d heard of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, but I didn’t know his middle name (Bear in Yiddish, Dov in Hebrew). It gets worse, folks. Exactly who is included in what I gather is a “collective name” known as “Chazal?” Has anyone in “Olam HaBlog” (the world of the blog) other than me ever explained the meaning of the acronym “Nach” (N’viim/K’tuvim, Prophets/Writings)? And what should I know about Anshé Knesset HaGedolah, the Men of the Great Assembly, which I’ve never seen anyone in the J-blogosphere even bother to translate, much less describe?

Paul Shaviv, this is your last warning: So help me, if you use the acronym BAYT one more time without bothering to explain what it means, I’ll smack you upside the Bloghead. Or knock your Bloghead off. I’m kidding, obviously. But not by much. The Jewish blogosphere is not for Orthodox yeshiva graduates only. It’s full of seekers, late-learners, Baalei Teshuvah (“returnees” to Orthodox Judaism) and Jews by Choice (which, for those not familiar with that term, means those formerly known as converts to Judaism). So why is it that so much knowledge is assumed? Yes, I’ll freely admit that I’m an “am haaretz,” a Jewishly-illiterate person. But that doesn’t mean that I particularly appreciate the constant reminders of that fact. Frankly, I’m sick and tired of having my nose constantly rubbed in my own ignorance. I would very much appreciate it if those among you who were fortunate enough to have received a good Jewish education would show a little derech eretz (common courtesy) and rachmanut (compassion) to those of us who were not so lucky and explain what and/or whom you’re talking about. By failing to explain, you prevent the less learnèd from learning, and hence, you violate the rabbinic interpretation (midrash halachah, an interpretation that becomes law?) of the statement from Torah she-bi-chtav (the Written Law/Five Books of Moses/first five books of the Bible), "lifnei iver lo titen michshol, in front of a blind [rabbinic interpretation: ignorant] person, do not put a stumbling block" (Parshat Kedoshim, Leviticus, chapter 19, verse 11).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good for you! I agree, these acronyms and initials need to be explained, KWIM? (Know What I Mean?)

Chazal stands for "Our Wise Men, may their memory be blessed" - Chachamenu Zichronam Livracha. Or so I was told anyway. But I have no idea who that actually includes.

Since Paul of Bloghead lives in Toronto, my guess is that BAYT is his shul - - Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto. That's my guess.

Wed Dec 14, 01:20:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Ezzie said...

Wow, Shira - strong, but excellent post. I do understand that bloggers will use abbreviations, and it's up to other bloggers to try and pick them up.

But I have to agree that Orthodox Jews such as myself should try and be more considerate in ensuring that everyone can understand the terms we use. It's a bit tricky, as we're so accustomed to some of them that we may not even realize it; plus, many of our blogs draw a primarily Ortho crowd, so it's not usually an issue. But it's something to be more aware of!

Wed Dec 14, 01:36:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Ezzie said...

Oh BAYT is his shul - in Toronto, it's a huge shul, and people generally call it "the BAYiT", but it's spelled BAYT.

I'm sure I'll BBS (be back soon) - I love this blog! :)

TTYL! (Talk to you later!)

Wed Dec 14, 01:38:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...


ITA! (I totally agree).

I've spent a lot of time looking up acronyms. Mostly I don't mind cause I end up learning other things, but some acronyms seem like insider encryptions and I do find it frustrating.

Wed Dec 14, 02:42:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Unknown said...

I work in an acronym-heavy environment (non-profit!) in western PA. When I wrote grants we used them but had to reference them I am VERY aware. Still, I have to admit, I do have a hard time reading Orthodox blogs simply because I don't know the terms...I'll ask usually but sometimes...I just move on. Great post Shira!

Wed Dec 14, 08:03:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Eliyahu said...

BTW, your blog is A-OK!

Wed Dec 14, 08:22:00 AM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the phrase "olam ha-blog" -- that was new to me and I will definitely hang on to that one! :-)

Wed Dec 14, 02:28:00 PM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So who exactly are the Chazal? Anyone care to answer that one?

Wed Dec 14, 03:54:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Noam S said...

Chazal- acronym of the letters chet zayin lamed. standing for chachamenu zichronam l'vracha- literally our wise ones may their memory be a blessing. Chazal sometimes refers to the guys(and one or two gals) who show up in the talmud(tannaim or amoraim) or in the midrashim. Sometimes it is used to include all the wise people who have contributed to our tradition(mesora).

a chazal- used as shorthand to refer to a saying of one of the wise men. Used in a sentence " I want to say over for you a chazal that is nogaya(relevant) to that."

chazal- the group mentioned above. "what do chazal say about this topic?"

chaval- Hebrew for a shame. It is chaval that I dont have more time to comment on this line.

Wed Dec 14, 09:45:00 PM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

aaargh! [Not an acronym]

Thank you Mirty for saving me from a nasty, violent blog-ending, as threatened. I am mortified (mirtyfied?) at causing offence. BAYT is not some obsecure rabbinic phrase - it , as others have correctly identified, my 'local'. I think I probably explained it once or twice. But why am I singled out from the entire blogosphere (and I have never called it Olam haBlog) for opprobrium???? Sorry! AND I am not an ex-Yeshivah bochur.

Wed Dec 14, 10:49:00 PM 2005  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

In anticipation of my visit to LA last week, Doctor Bean requested I submit my hebrew name in writing so he could get me an aliyah in his shul. I told him:

Moshe Shmuel ben Eliezer Aryeh Shlita.

He wanted to know why my dad had 3 names.

I told him Shlita wasn't a name. But darn if I could remember what it stood for.

Thank Gd for the internet:

The term "Shlita" is actually an acronym, and stands for the words "Sheyichye L'orech Yamim Tovim Aruchim." This means that we pray that he "will live many long and good days."


Wed Dec 14, 11:17:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Mirty and Ezzie, thanks for the info about Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto (BAYT). Another Jewish mystery solved. :)

Mirty and (especially) Dilbert, thanks for explaining the collective noun “Chazal,” Chachamenu, Zichronam Livracha, Our Wise Ones, May Their Memory be for a Blessing. So it usually refers to the “early birds” of our tradition from the days of the Talmud and midrashim.

Hmm, “nogaya” means relevant, and “chaval” means “a shame.” Dilbert, thanks for contributing another two words to my growing Hebrew vocabulary. You should see the stack of handwritten index cards—Hebrew on the front, English on the back—that I study on the subway whenever I can get a seat. One of my Ulpan classmates recommended that method of learning vocabulary, and it’s turned out to be quite effective. Now if only I knew how to shuffle cards, mixing up my “flashcards” would be a lot easier. :)

Ezzie, the point of this post was to encourage the better educated to keep the rest of us in mind when they write. I’d glad you’re giving this some thought. Thanks.

Barefoot Jewess and Z, I guess misery loves company, as the saying goes. I figured that I wasn’t not the only one who found acronyms frustrating.

Eliyahu, thanks. All compliments cheerfully accepted. :)

Rachel, I think I first saw the name “Olam HaBlog” on Mark’s Psychotoddler blog, but I also think that he said that that name didn’t originate with him. Hey, we have a J-blogopshere mystery! :)

Wed Dec 14, 11:33:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Sorry, Paul, you were just the first “target” that/who came to mind. Besides, when it comes to a phenomenal opportunity to pun, well, as we science fiction fans say, “Resistance is futile.” :) I mean, the name of your blog is already a pun, so what did you expect? :) :) :) By the way, congratulations on your blog’s well-deserved Jewish and Israeli Blog Award nomination as Best Overall Blog. And thanks for telling us that you’re not a yeshiva grad—maybe there’s hope for the rest of us after all. :)

Mark/PT, thanks for the explanation of “Shlita.” I’ve been trying to figure that one out for years. Just out of curiosity, is it my imagination or is the phrase "Sheyichye L'orech Yamim Tovim Aruchim, May he live many long and good days" a bit redundant in the original Hebrew? Wouldn’t that be “May he live a long length of good days?”

Thu Dec 15, 12:03:00 AM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to show that i am not *totally* evil:

[As posted on bloghead]:

As a public service - acronymically challenged blog readers should check out this site - A few checks showed it was pretty good, including many Jewish blog-acronyms - 'RYBS', and, in fact 'BAYT'!

Thu Dec 15, 06:56:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Paul, I already thanked you on your own blog, but thanks again.

And not to worry--I don't think you're totally evil. :) You run a darn good blog. Dare I say "with a little help from a chip off the old Bloghead?" :) :) :)

Thu Dec 15, 08:49:00 AM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think RYBS probably came into common usage because it is really hard to spell "Soloveitchik".

Thu Dec 15, 10:12:00 AM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about asking when you don't know something?

Thu Dec 15, 03:41:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

To G,

Sometimes you're passing thru and you don't want to spend endless time going back and threading thru comments to get an answer and then having to return to the post and reread it again to finally get a clue. It is far more convenient, and more sensitive, IMO, to simply play it as it lays, given that the blogosphere is filled with ignoramuses like us.

To the rest:
About chazal, I did look up the acronym in the past, but I also understand CHAZAL to encompass rabbis in the Talmud from a certain era, whose word O Jews seem to live by, as opposed to the tannaim or amoraim, for example? ;)

Thu Dec 15, 06:57:00 PM 2005  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Shira: I thought you were the one who coined Olam Hablog.

I wonder if this is one of those time continuum paradoxes I keep seeing on Star Trek?

Re: Slita: I think they want the days to be long too.

Thu Dec 15, 07:54:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

G., while it's true that I could ask, it gets to be a bit much, after a while. As I said, I don't appreciate having my nose constantly rubbed in my own ignorance, and being forced to ask what words, phrases, or concepts mean all the time puts me in exactly that position. Then, too, it's a matter of derech eretz (common courtesy), as I was saying. Why should I have to ask? Why can't folks just *tell* me?

Barefoot Jewess, good question: How specific are the sages included in the collective name "Chazal?" Any takers?

Mark/PT, I haven't a clue who coined the term Olam HaBlog, but it's a good one.

Hmm, re the acronym Shlita, I guess that, if one wishes someone long days, one has to wait for Daylight Savings Time. :)

Fri Dec 16, 12:22:00 AM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No dice. If your just passing through then it's no big deal anyway. If it is a big deal, ask once and know forever.

Point taken. I imagine that people may be more understanding than you might think. Also, not to be too blunt it is part of the process of learning. The whole, the only wrong question is the one that is never asked, thing.:)

Fri Dec 16, 12:34:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Fran In NH said...

Hi. I can sympathize with you, not being "Generation X" myself. There's a website listing all those acronyms, and I lost it when my browser crashed. I did find an excellent search engine, however. It's a kind of Google "cheat sheet", so to speak, where you learn what to type in to get the results you want. I think the url is, and it's great. Hope this helps.

Fri Dec 16, 03:37:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

G, It's no fun wearin' a dunce cap all the time, but I guess I do have to get better at asking. Sigh.

Reva, thanks for the URL. I'll try it out. By the way, check out the comment above in which Paul recommended a website for looking up acronyms.

Sun Dec 18, 12:42:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Hashouk said...

This is an internet problem in general - IMHO, IMO and other such innanities which take us old guys months to figure out. email and the internet HMPL (have made people lazy).

Sun Dec 18, 01:45:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Out of Step, I know exactly what you mean--been there, done all that headscratching.

Sun Dec 18, 06:30:00 PM 2005  
Blogger ifyouwillit... said...

I used to have a dictionary of all these acronyms, it's easy to get lost in the sea of four letter "words".


Tue Dec 20, 11:20:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...



Okay, wiseguy, you have some explaining to do--literally.

Wed Dec 21, 11:58:00 PM 2005  

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