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Letters in dialogue

Switch Blayde

I couldn't find the thread where we discussed having letters in dialogue so I had to create a new one. I think Crumbly's solution was something like "A-B-C-D".

It just so happens it came up in something I'm writing. Right or wrong, this is my dialogue:

"It's Lowery Merkins. The id should be first initial, last name. L, M, E, R, K, I, N, S."


Notice how "id" is written. And when the character spelled the letters. Right or wrong, this is what seems to make the most sense for me.

And I also wrote in dialogue:

"At the FBI he worked on money laundering cases."


I wrote "FBI" as the three letters.

Perv Otaku

But what about the ego and the super-ego, then?

Oh wait, you meant the one that's short for identification. Yeah, dictionary says capitalize that.
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/id

Acronyms I'd have to look up. Most people use "FBI" instead of "F.B.I." anyway, but I'm not sure if there's a genuine rule there. Maybe leave the periods out if it's pronounced as a whole word ("NASA") and leave them in if you say the letters individually. Not sure. If it's in the dictionary then follow that example.

I'm working on a thing with a cheerleader character. So I've got a few of these:
"Gimmie a V! I! C! T! O! R! Y! What's that spell? Victory!"
Like you, I used capital letters and commas a couple times when it wasn't being done shouty gametime-style.

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

There are initials, official acronyms, common use acronyms, and nicknames.

The initials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is F.B.I. However, with acronyms you drop the full stops to turn the initials into an acronym, and sometimes you add a letter to help make it an easy to say acronym. Thus the acronym for the Federal Bureau of Investigation is FBI with no full stops, and it's nickname is Feebie. A well known example of an acronym with and extra letter is CHiP for the California Highway Patrol. The acronym for Justice of the Peace is JP, and while the official plural is Justices of the Peace and written as JsP the common use plural acronym is JPs.

ID is an acronym for Identification Document, while id is for a part of the brain. Most people think ID comes from IDentity, but it is the acronym of the two words because an ID is the documentation to show who you are.
typo edit

Replies:   PotomacBob
Switch Blayde

@Perv Otaku

Yeah, dictionary says capitalize that.


I never thought to capitalize it so I Googled "login id" and in all the results "id" was "ID". Thanks for catching that.

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Perv Otaku


Oh wait, you meant the one that's short for identification. Yeah, dictionary says capitalize that.

Acronyms I'd have to look up. Most people use "FBI" instead of "F.B.I." anyway, but I'm not sure if there's a genuine rule there.


As Ernest says, ID is typically capitalized as a common abbreviation. Abbreviations are typically spelled out (with periods), but in the case of the FBI, CIA and CSI, they've fallen into common parlance, so they've become words in themselves. In those cases, you don't include the periods in the name.

Switch, I like spelling the letters out with dashes, because it gives you greater flexibility. Typically, when people spell things, they'll pause between syllables, so they'd say: "The ID should specify the first initial and last name, reading: L, period M-E-R, K-I-N-S."

The information is the same, but one format allows it to come across a little more naturally, but both are perfectly fine.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Ernest Bywater
Updated:

The simplified way of looking at the difference between initials and an acronym is initials are letters with full stops between, while acronyms don't have any full stops. Acronyms are typically used in speech and fiction while initials are typically used in formal reports. Thus you get a report title like: Investigation of Forensic Services in the F.B.I while people will talk to each other about the FBI agents investigating the kidnapping. The report is initials while the kidnapping is an acronym.

Oh, expanding on early ID comes from Identity Document and is an acronym, but is now misused to refer to anything related to identifying a person, even in electronic systems where the document part isn't relevant - just common usage.

typo edit

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


I like spelling the letters out with dashes, because it gives you greater flexibility.


Except the dash has a specific purpose in punctuation (to connect two words, as in "hard-on" or "make-up"). the en-dash is used for ranges. So that would leave the em-dash. A comma is a pause so in my head I heard a slight pause between each letter. I have no idea which way is right.

As to "FBI" I was referring to writing it in dialogue as "ef bee eye" (or is I "ay"?). They say to write it the way it sounds in dialogue. That doesn't always apply.

Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

So that would leave the em-dash. A comma is a pause so in my head I heard a slight pause between each letter. I have no idea which way is right.


Why does one have to be right and one wrong? As long as your readers understand it, that should be enough.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

Why does one have to be right and one wrong? As long as your readers understand it, that should be enough.


As I said, I have no idea what is "right" if there is a right.

How do you know all your readers understand what you meant? That's the main reason for following standard punctuation. You can make it up any way you want, but other than you, who will understand what you meant?

If you follow the rules and someone doesn't know those rules, that's their problem.

Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

How do you know all your readers understand what you meant?


You can't, but if enough readers don't understand hopefully you would get some feedback on it.

That's the main reason for following standard punctuation.


1. You can't follow standard punctuation in a situation not covered by standard punctuation.
2. For many things there are multiple "standards"

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

You can make it up any way you want, but other than you, who will understand what you meant?


Most people.

I've seen reports on tests where they give a bunch of people a paragraph of text with most words misspelled, no punctuation, verb-noun reversals, missing words.

Around 80% of the test subjects can correctly read the paragraph and determine the correct meaning despite the "errors".

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

As to "FBI" I was referring to writing it in dialogue as "ef bee eye" (or is I "ay"?). They say to write it the way it sounds in dialogue. That doesn't always apply.

If the character says "FBI", then that's what you write. Which would you prefer to read? "Call the FBI!" or "Call the Eff Bee Eye!" I wouldn't include the second if you offered me an endorsement deal.

Besides, a dash is reserved for combination/linked words while the em-dash is intended to link non-directly related sentence fragments. Neither applies to letters. You might be able to get away with it, but neither is considered proper usage.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

You can't, but if enough readers don't understand hopefully you would get some feedback on it.

Except, you only get 1 response for every 100 upset readers, and that's only on SOL. For published works, the rates are even lower, and you often NEVER hear diddly from readers!

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

Around 80% of the test subjects can correctly read the paragraph and determine the correct meaning despite the "errors".

Alas, that might be so, but it doesn't mean they'll put that much work into it, and won't toss the book once they do. Expecting them to continue reading something requiring that much work (even for simple typos), is inviting widespread rejection.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Capt Zapp

@Switch Blayde

How do you know all your readers understand what you meant?


Considering what passes for 'writing' in text messages, tweets, and general postings on-line, I can understand why they might not understand what has been in use for decades.

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

Alas, that might be so, but it doesn't mean they'll put that much work into it, and won't toss the book once they do.


For what Switch was specifically talking about, spoken letters, whether you use dashes, commas, or even just spaces,

I don't think more than 1 in 10,000 readers would have a problem understanding it.

None of the formatting/punctuation possibilities would be the least bit confusing.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer


Besides, a dash is reserved for combination/linked words while the em-dash is intended to link non-directly related sentence fragments. Neither applies to letters.


I asked my published author contacts. You are right, it's dashes.

Crumbly Writer

I checked how I handled it in my first story (a long, long time ago):

"No, no, it's Shaniqua, spelled with a 'Q'. 'S', 'h', 'a',…." she went on as she spelled out her name. Finally my sister got it.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

"No, no, it's Shaniqua, spelled with a 'Q'. 'S', 'h', 'a',…." she went on as she spelled out her name. Finally my sister got it.


That's similar to what I wanted to use (minus the single quotes). I still think it looks better with commas, but I strive for my writing to look like traditionally published books so I'll go with the dashes.

TMaskedWriter
Updated:

I was taught to not use the periods between letters, but to alternate between the acronym and the proper name of the organization in Journalism class ("CDC," then "Centers for Disease Control," then "CDC" again.)

If the name of the organization has been changed officially to it's acronym, then one need not do that. (NASA is always NASA.)

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@TMaskedWriter

The question had to do with a character spelling something out in dialogue.

Would it be "F-B-I"
or "F, B, I"
or "Ef bee eye"

We agreed it would be the first (with the dashes).

But if someone were to say "FBI" (not spell it) in dialogue (or in the narrative for that matter), it would simply be "FBI."

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

But if someone were to say "FBI" (not spell it)


Not possible to say it without spelling it.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

Not possible to say it without spelling it.


But you would write it as "FBI" and not "F-B-I"

In my novel, someone asked what a person's login id was. He said something like:

"First initial, last name, L-M-E-R-K-I-N-S."

He could have said:

"First initial, last name, L-Merkins."

Replies:   sejintenej
Ross at Play

The Oxford Dictionary lists ID and FBI as acceptable abbreviations.
I think it becomes acceptable to drop full stops or whatever that may technically be needed once an abbreviation becomes almost universally known - readers know how it is pronounced without needing punctuation to guide them.

Replies:   sejintenej
sejintenej

@Switch Blayde

First initial, last name, L-Merkins."

Just spotted that; it is about as offensive to many readers here as you can get

Replies:   Switch Blayde
sejintenej

@Ross at Play

Ross at Play tstamp = new Date(1488886653000);document.write(tstamp.toLocaleString());‎07‎/‎03‎/‎2017‎ ‎11‎:‎37‎:‎332017-03-07 6:03:33am
The Oxford Dictionary lists ID and FBI as acceptable abbreviations.
I think it becomes acceptable to drop full stops or whatever that may technically be needed once an abbreviation becomes almost universally known - readers know how it is pronounced without needing punctuation to guide them.

It is difficult to know when to omit the points:
CIA
C.I.D.
NATO
A.E.A can be AEA and in the USA (not U.S.A.) A.E.C. or AEC
O.T. but not O.E.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@sejintenej

It is difficult to know when to omit the points:
CIA
C.I.D.
NATO
A.E.A can be AEA and in the USA (not U.S.A.) A.E.C. or AEC
O.T. but not O.E.

Of those examples, I have no doubts about what CIA, NATO, and USA all mean.
Writers may use those without explanation as far as I'm concerned

But in my view every one of these needs the full name the first time they are used: C.I.D., A.E.A., A.E.C., O.T., O.E.
The writer should then show the abbreviation they will use after that inside parentheses - with or without periods, I no longer care.

Switch Blayde

@sejintenej

First initial, last name, L-Merkins."

Just spotted that; it is about as offensive to many readers here as you can get


Why?

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Switch Blayde

Why?

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/merkin

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/merkin


I didn't know that. But why would naming a character that be offensive to readers?

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

But why would naming a character that be offensive to readers?

Duh!
"Hello, Mr Pubic Wig, how are you today?"

Replies:   sejintenej  Capt Zapp
sejintenej

@Ross at Play

But why would naming a character that be offensive to readers?

Duh!

"Hello, Mr Pubic Wig, how are you today?"

After a spate of certain people interfering in news groups they were given that nickname; unfortunately for you every one of them was American and the nickname spread

sejintenej

@Ross at Play

C.I.D., A.E.A., A.E.C., O.T., O.E.

Criminal Investigation Division (slightly equivalent to FBI), the A.E.C is a USA state body, O.T refers to the Old Testament but OK (or should that be O.K.?) I wouldn't expect you to know Old English. Then of course we have the EU, EFTA and a whole bank of organisations allied to the U.N. (or is it UN?)

Ross at Play

@sejintenej

OK (or should that be O.K.?)

The two accepted spellings are 'OK' and 'okay' (but some do use 'O.K.')
Note that 'OK' is (one of) the only words that has an apostrophe when endings need to be added to it. Thus:
It was given OK's all round.
He OK's that.
I am OK'ing that.
They OK'd that.

Capt Zapp

@Ross at Play

But why would naming a character that be offensive to readers?
Duh!
"Hello, Mr Pubic Wig, how are you today?"


Obviously someone hasn't watched many movies lately. Even the 'kid's movies' use insinuated humor. A good example is the director of the 'Anti Villian League' (AVL) in Despicable Me II, Silas Ramsbottom Who was referred to by Gru and his Minions as 'Mr. Sheep's Butt'.

Dominions Son

@Capt Zapp

Obviously someone hasn't watched many movies lately. Even the 'kid's movies' use insinuated humor. A good example is the director of the 'Anti Villian League' (AVL) in Despicable Me II, Silas Ramsbottom Who was referred to by Gru and his Minions as 'Mr. Sheep's Butt'.


Gotta throw in a few jokes for the kid's parents.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Ross at Play


The writer should then show the abbreviation they will use after that inside parentheses - with or without periods, I no longer care.


Except, again, parentheses generally aren't used in fiction. It's a construct used in reporting, business papers and non-fiction in general.

You can get away with it, but it's an awkward solution, as it amounts to author intrusion (the author explaining directly to the reader what the term refers to).

Replies:   Ross at Play
Crumbly Writer

@sejintenej

but OK (or should that be O.K.?) I wouldn't expect you to know

The standard rule, which we've discussed extensively here, is that it's fine using "OK" in narrative, but you should use "okay" in dialogue under the assumption you're typing out what's said (i.e. how it sounds, similar to the rule for typing out numbers in dialogue).

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

Gotta throw in a few jokes for the kid's parents.

Kids like sheep butts too (though for different reasons).

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

Kids like sheep butts too (though for different reasons).


The sheep butt comments are deflection for the kids. The parents might see Ramsbottom as a reference to something else entirely (anal sex).

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@Dominions Son

Cue Ross at Play to say that 'Ramsbottom' is so offensive that they'd never give that name to a town ;)

AJ

Replies:   sejintenej  Ross at Play
sejintenej

@awnlee jawking

'Ramsbottom' is so offensive that they'd never give that name to a town ;)

Pratt's Bottom is close to Under River, both in south east London. (I used to work with Nic Pratt).
I've also been to Hell and back - it was very cold

Ross at Play

@Capt Zapp

Obviously someone hasn't watched many movies lately. Even the 'kid's movies' use insinuated humor. A good example is the director of the 'Anti Villian League' (AVL) in Despicable Me II, Silas Ramsbottom Who was referred to by Gru and his Minions as 'Mr. Sheep's Butt'.

If SB wants a name for the humour, then it would be fine.
I don't think he intended that.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

Except, again, parentheses generally aren't used in fiction. It's a construct used in reporting, business papers and non-fiction in general.

You can get away with it, but it's an awkward solution, as it amounts to author intrusion (the author explaining directly to the reader what the term refers to).

I don't understand. Would you provide an example please.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Ross at Play


If SB wants a name for the humour, then it would be fine.

I don't think he intended that.


I didn't intend humor. How could I have? I thought I had made up a name not knowing it was a word. But I'm not going to change the name. To me, the character is a living and breathing creature named Lowery Merkins. If a reader has a problem with the name, so be it.

Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

I don't understand. Would you provide an example please.


From an article:

Parentheses often contain asides that don't need any additional attention drawn to them; the inclusion of parentheses is overkill. They are like the writer winking at the reader, asking, Do you get it? They highlight the artificiality of the fiction rather than pull the reader deeper inside the reality of the fiction.

Parentheses can make readers very aware of the writer. And since you're not part of the story, that's usually not a good idea.

Yet if holding conversations with the readers is your intention, this would work for your story. But otherwise, commas and dashes may be a better choice. They aren't as noticeable as parentheses at being something other. The aside is still there, but you're not pointing or winking at it.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

Me : I don't understand. Would you provide an example please.
You: From an article ...

I meant can you show me how you define your abbreviation without using parentheses.
For example, the TV show named NCIS. The first time you use the name you need to write it out in full, and then let readers know you will just write NCIS for the rest of the story.
To me it would depend on whether it was first used in narrative or dialogue. In dialogue the speaker would simply state the initials after saying the full name. What would you do in narrative. I really don't see how it hurts to simply insert '(NCIS)'.

Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

Cue Ross at Play to say that 'Ramsbottom' is so offensive that they'd never give that name to a town

I WAS NOT offended by it at all, I simply explains why some others might find it offensive.
* * *
In fact, I have an unfinished story in which I have definitely decided it is the perfect word for the final scene of the story.
That story has an aspiring young actress informing her naive featherbrained mother, to cope with the expected sexual harassment, "I am going to need a merkin ... and a taser." The mother replies, "Why would you need a Mercedes? You're too young to drive."

Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

I meant can you show me how you define your abbreviation without using parentheses.
For example, the TV show named NCIS. The first time you use the name you need to write it out in full


NCIS is the full name of the TV show. The show is named for a government agency for which NCIS is an initialism.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Dominions Son

NCIS is the full name of the TV show. The show is named for a government agency for which NCIS is an initialism.

Sigh!
* * *
What is the alternative if you cannot use parentheses?
What do you write in narrative instead of this?

Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS)

How to you show from now on you will just use the initialism, 'NCIS'?

Dominions Son
Updated:

@Ross at Play


How to you show from now on you will just use the initialism, 'NCIS'?


1. If you are referring to the TV show, there is no need to expound on what NCIS stands for, because that is the full name of the show, it doesn't stand for anything. Don't blame others when you pick lousy examples and get called on it.

2. If it's in dialog, use the initialism first and have another character ask "What's ****"

3 I have read more than a few dead tree science fiction and high fantasy novels that have a glossary at either the beginning or the end of the book.

4. I personally don't have an issue with using () in narrative.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

I don't understand. Would you provide an example please.

I don't have any print (or SOL) examples handy, but something along the lines of:

The man was an NCIS (Navel Criminal Investigation Service) agent.

Then the explanation amounts to author intrusion, as it has no place in the actual story. The key, is figuring out how to include the explanation in the story without it seeming random.

I've also mentioned, multiple times, that parentheses are used rarely (though you'll sometime find them) in fiction. Instead, the em-dash is used more often for non-directly-related sentence fragments.

Replies:   Capt Zapp
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

I meant can you show me how you define your abbreviation without using parentheses.
For example, the TV show named NCIS.

"Put down your gun! I'm an NCIS agent."

"A what?"

Sighing in exasperation, the agent explains. "It stands for Naval Criminal Investigation Services. We investigate service related crimes."

"Oh! Then why the hell are you investigating me with guns drawn?"

Replies:   Dominions Son
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

How to you show from now on you will just use the initialism, 'NCIS'?

Sigh!

First use: "I'm a Navel Criminal Investigative Services Agent."

All following uses: "I'm an NCIS agent."

awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

What do you write in narrative instead of this?

Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS)


You could write:
Naval Criminal Investigative Service ;)

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

What do you write in narrative instead of this?

Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS)

You could write:
Naval Criminal Investigative Service ;)

In dialogue, you write what the characters say. If they spell out the letters, you use the abbreviation, as that's what they say. However, if they define it, you write the full name.

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

"Oh! Then why the hell are you investigating me with guns drawn?"


"Because a Marine OD'd on the drugs you've been selling."

Capt Zapp

@Ross at Play

What do you write in narrative instead of this?

Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS)


How about "I work for the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, commonly referred to as NCIS."

or

"I with NCIS, the Naval Criminal Investigation Service."

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Capt Zapp

@Crumbly Writer

The man was an NCIS (Navel Criminal Investigation Service) agent.


So he goes around checking for improperly pierced belly buttons?

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
awnlee jawking

@Capt Zapp

I work for the Naval Criminal Investigation Service


Investigative

AJ

Crumbly Writer

@Capt Zapp

So he goes around checking for improperly pierced belly buttons?

They're not so sophisticated. They merely check for link.

PotomacBob

@Ernest Bywater

Just curious: What ruling authority made it "official"?

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@PotomacBob

Just curious: What ruling authority made it "official"?


Which point is the question about?

Initials always come with a full stop to show it's an initial, while an acronym doesn't have any full stops in it. That's in most of the basic grammar books.

maroon

Sometimes the problem is that an unfamiliar spoken word gets written down without the same meaning. I first heard Ender's Game as an audiobook, and I was well into the audiobook before I realized that what they pronounced as uh-sheel was the same name from Greek mythology I'd always heard pronounced as uh-kill-eez. I'd never heard the body part described as an uh-sheel heel, so if I had read the book, I would have seen the spelling for Achilles and thought it was being pronounced uh-kill-eez.

Replies:   richardshagrin
richardshagrin

@maroon

Achilles

Or plural of A Chilli
Chili pepper, the spicy fruit of plants in the genus Capsicum; sometimes spelled "chilli" in the UK

pappyo
Updated:

@Ross at Play

The first season of NCIS, in the opening credits they spelled out 'Naval Criminal Investigative Service' in small letters at the bottom of the title, but it was later dropped. The characters occasionally say the full name to civilians they think won't know what NCIS is.

On the BBC show 'New Tricks' they have the 'Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad' (UCOS) [see how I did that on the first reference?] When interacting with civilians, some times they say "You-coss" when flashing their badge, other times the full name.

This happened one episode (as best I can remember)

(Points to painted letters on office window, 'UCOS')

"This is you-coss, the Unsolved Crimes and Open Case Squad"

"Wouldn't that be U-C-O-C-S?"

"We thought so too, but it didn't come out sounding right"

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@pappyo

The characters occasionally say the full name to civilians they think won't know what NCIS is.


Until that show started very few people outside of the US Navy would've recognise what NCIS was.

Replies:   Michael Loucks
Michael Loucks

@Ernest Bywater


Until that show started very few people outside of the US Navy would've recognise what NCIS was.


"Is that like CSI?"
"Only if you're dyslexic!"

:-)

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

I think we need an entirely new show, the "AIP" ("Anti-Initialism Police")!

"Who are you?"
"We're the NCIS."
"I'm sorry, but unless you can explain who you are, using complete words, I'll have to charge you with obstruction of the common sense laws."

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