Everyday Lies


Acronyms are one of the means by which bureaucracies hide or obfuscate what they do

This article is taken from the October 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

We live in a golden age of acronyms. Perhaps this is inevitable: they are one of the means by which bureaucracies hide or obfuscate what they do. They multiply rapidly to produce a secret language and are particularly attached to euphemisms. 

What does PWID stand for? I had not seen it before I came across it on the website of the Journal of the American Medical Association. It stands for People Who Inject Drugs, who can be active or inactive PWID, depending on whether or not they continue to inject themselves with drugs. They can be further subdivided into those who take part in SSPs, that is to say Syringe Service Programs, or MATs, that is to say Medication-Assisted Treatment. 

One of the problems with PWID as an acronym is that, strictly speaking, it can be applied only to drug addicts in the plural. An individual cannot be a PWID, he can be only one of the PWID. No doubt, however, the acronym will soon be used in singular form, as in: “Doctor, I need help, I’m a PWID”. 

What is the purpose, or at any rate the effect, of this acronym? It is a manifestation of the rush to non-judgement: in conjunction with SSP and MAT, it suggests that drug addicts are neither to be adversely judged nor held responsible for their actions. And this in turn is a manifestation of the sentimental moral philosophy according to which victims, but only victims, are to be compassionated. Were it not for victimhood, Man would be perfect. But this turns victims into something less than full human beings.

I look forward confidently to further euphemistic acronyms, for example PWAW, People Who Assault Women. I confess, however, to a fondness for certain acronyms such as TWOC, Taking Without Owners’ Consent. Fortunately, my car has never been twocked. At my age, I am more likely to undergo TWOC of a different kind, Trial Without Catheter after a prostate-ctomy or relief of urinary retention.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover