We need a new English phonics alphabet: A for “Af”, B for “bk ”, D for “def”, F for “finmin”, G for “Guj”, H for “hosp”, M for “mths ”, N for “nat’l”, O for “ops”, Q for “Qstn”, S for “secy”, V for “vax”, Y or “yrs”. 

If you are perplexed, you are not reading today’s English newspapers in India. Some years ago, a common complaint was how text messaging and then social media was badly influencing the conversation style among young people. “U no wat i m tryn 2 say?” Now it has permeated the English newspapers: the headlines are so much abbreviated that often they don’t make sense to the uninitiated.

When I was a young sub-editor in Indian English dailies, my news editors would simply bin the newsprint on which I’d draft headlines if I used any cryptic abbreviations. “No sir, this is not allowed,” they would roar. And mind it, at the time, the papers were composed with metal types, which did not allow you to reduce the font/type size to fit in longer headlines in the available space. Yet we always managed to write clear headlines. Today, when one can easily adjust font size to fit the headline within the space available, such nonsensical abbreviations don’t make sense. 

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Take a look at some of the gems of headlines I have collected from 3 English dailies I read now in print. The biggest user of cryptic abbreviations are the sub-editors of “India’s largest English newspaper” (The Times of India, where I learned the craft some 33 years ago and was fortunate to have some of the best news editors during my time). My limited empirical evidence shows more than half of their headlines are cryptic to the point of being incomprehensible, while they can easily be edited to be concise and clear. Shout out to the copy editors in “India’s national newspaper since 1878” (The Hindu) who seem to be excellent in following this good practice. 

You will need a primer to understand the headlines in TOI, The Hindustan Times and such papers, so here is my short compilation. What other nonsensical abbreviations have you come across?

Af = Afghanistan

anniv = anniversary

biz = business

bizman = businessman

bk = bank

B’shahr = Bulandshahr

bro(s) = brother(s)

Cal = Calcutta

def = defence

Del = Delhi

doc = doctor

fin = finance/financial

finmin = finance minister

govt = government

Guj = Gujarat

Gzb = Ghaziabad

hosp = hospital

hrs = hours

K’taka = Karnataka

Maha = Maharashtra

med = medical

mgmt = management

min = minister/ministry

mkt(s) = market(s)

mth(s) = month(s)

nat’l = national

Oly = Olympics

ops = operations

org = organization

Pak = Pakistan(i)

Pb = Punjab

qstn = question

secy = secretary

U’khand = Uttarakhand

vax = vaccines

yrs = years

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