Writing Big Year: Word choice is key . . .

Writing an “everyperson” history in a technical area means having to make tricky word/phrase decisions. Consider radioactive waste. Very broadly, countries categorise their radioactive waste into high-level waste (that is, deadly shit) and low-level waste (much less dangerous although still dangerous). (Some countries also interpose intermediate-level waste, a complication beyond me.) High-level waste has an acronym: HLW. Similarly there is LLW. Different countries use different definitions of high-level waste versus low-level waste – but an easy decision for my book is to skate over those differences unless they’re important for some event. The definitions have varied over the decades, indeed in the early days, after WWII, there really weren’t any definitions – again I’ll glaze over this unless it’s important.

So here’s the question: do I write “HLW” or “high-level radioactive waste” over and over again. “High-level radioactive waste” is a horrid mouth stuffer that gums up paragraphs, but it has the virtue of being full words that carry meaning. Nonetheless it’s still jargon. “HLW” is concise but it’s gobbledygook. Which is better?

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