If anybody has an answer to this question I'd love to hear it. And, yes, it is on topic because I've used the obsession in a story.

Here's the thing . . .

There's a difference between text and speech. I understand that whilst writing a report a person involved in law enforcement or medicine my replace 'Gun shot wound" with "GSW" - it's quicker and easier. However, I have watched a plethora of TV shows where a character says, "GSW to the chest." It makes no sense! It's not quicker or easier!

"GSW" is five syllables. Gun shot wound is only three!

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    The question is about TV shows in general, not writing. Based on the OP's comments, it belongs on movies.stackexchange.com Voted to close.
    – wetcircuit
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 13:32
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    @wetcircuit There is a good question lurking there: how to use acronyms as part of professional jargon in a way that balances realism with audience expectations. Or how much professional jargon should be used. (I can hardly blame you for not wanting to give it the benefit of the doubt though.) Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 14:16
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    @wetcircuit, well, yeah - it's users who do not call answers given in good faith "ridiculous" and "nonsensical", that get help with fixing their questions. Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 14:32
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    This is less a question and more a rant, with you winking to Stackexchange saying 'amirite?' Not for this site. Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 16:09
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    @wetcircuit If you (or anyone else, for that matter) come across content anywhere on the site that you feel is rude or otherwise in violation of the Stack Exchange code of conduct, then please flag it as such with an appropriate flag reason. It doesn't matter whether it's on an old, long closed question, or a freshly posted on topic one. Rest assured that the moderator team looks at every such flag.
    – user
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 18:05

2 Answers 2


"Quicker and easier" is not always about syllables. Mikey is easier to say than Mike even though it has more syllables.

But the acronyms used by emergency services, police, medical, and military are all jargon within those fields. They are actually communicating more information to their co-workers than just a general physical description. A "gunshot wound" is a layman's term that might be used in a general way in conversation, while a "GSW" describes certain protocols and procedures. A specialist might need to be contacted, or there may be specific paperwork involved to complete the job. For instance, all gunshot wounds have to be reported to the police, but it probably requires a ranking specialist to officially declare a GSW, but with protocols in place for reporting a potential GSW to the proper channels.

Crime and medical dramas are attempting to sound more authentic by putting jargon in the mouths of the characters. Ask an ER nurse how realistic a medical TV show's dialog sounds and you might get a belly laugh. Ask any scientist about the technobabble in Star Trek, which is an affectation of the same idea.

An NYPD sergeant once told me the most "realistic" cop show he'd ever seen was Car 54, Where Are You? (a farcical comedy from the 1950s), mostly because they had all the ranks and protocols correct. The show is set in a made-up precinct and the plots are ridiculous, but the jargon they used is still mostly correct 50 years later. He said all the modern crime dramas are just layers of soap opera/Hollywood; no one ever really discusses dramatic or poignant personal issues at work. His biggest peeve is that recurring actors who are paid to speak lines give information far outside the scope of their job for the convenience of exposition. No amount of authoritative jargon is convincing when it is spoken by the wrong person.

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    This reminds me of some of the discussion in the answer to my question Was the Apollo 13 CM guidance computer fully shut down? on Space Exploration; "The mission transcript attests to this with dozens of pages of comms lasting several hours, something that happened in the movie in a maybe a few seconds. Probably for the better too, I doubt we'd be having a discussion on the accuracy of this movie, if it actually was more accurate. Rare few would ever go and see it." There's a time and place for accurate jargon, and there's a time and place for drama.
    – user
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 18:12

There are several reasons why acronyms, abbreviations and initials would be used. Some of those reasons have to do with the reality of the relevant professions, others might be as much for the audience's benefit as they are about what would be realistic.

  • Anyone can say "gunshot wound". When we hear "GSW", on the other hand, we "know" the speaker is a professional medic / policeman / etc. "GSW" is part of the professional lingo of the relevant profession, we associate use of lingo with professionalism.
  • Think of the situations in which you're likely to hear "GSW" - noise, lots of people, maybe the report is being made over a creaky radio transceiver. It is critical that the information is passed correctly, and understood by everyone who needs to understand it. If "gunshot wound" might sound like something else, you don't say "gunshot wound". An extra syllable is a small price to pay for avoiding mistakes.
  • While the professionals all need to understand the information being transmitted, do you really need all the civilians milling around to hear someone has a gunshot wound? "GSW" keeps the information to those who are supposed to receive it.
  • If a person writes "GSW" and reads"GSW" on a daily basis, is it all that unnatural to also say "GSW"?

Using a lot of abbreviations, acronyms and initials is not strictly an American thing either. For example, George Orwell in 1984 used a lot of abbreviations in part because they sound "structured" and "military", in part because they were ubiquitous in the USSR. (They were ubiquitous in the USSR because Russian has words that are already long, conjugations make them even longer, grammar says if you talk about something with a multi-word name, like "faculty of medicine", all parts of the name have to be conjugated depending on whether they're the subject of the sentence, the direct object, the indirect object...)

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