In Stickler Weekly 205, a number of people mentioned the use of “c” to represent “captain” in 23-across: Unqualified captain abandoning ship (5). It was noted in the comments that it wasn’t listed in any major reference although it was regularly seen in newspapers and on TV where sporting team line-ups use a “c” to indicate who is the captain (“vc” is also used for “vice-captain”). I’ve talked a little before about abbreviations and how they can be tricky: should an abbreviation be used in a clue if it appears in any major reference, or should it appear in all? Even if there’s referential acceptance of an abbreviation, does this mean it automatically can be used in clues? Setters, as always, have choices. There’s the easy way out – if it appears in any references, it’s fair game; and there’s the considered approach – use it if it’s a widely-accepted abbreviation, which can mean it’s not necessarily in the dictionary. The first approach is a poor one as there are many abbreviations that aren’t relevant to the man in the street, and unlike normal words, there’s no easy way to look possible abbreviations up. No problem the other way, that is, look up “c” and find “caught (cricket)”, but look up “caught” (what the setter would use in a clue) and you won’t find “c” mentioned. The only cases where this isn’t true is for offical symbols, like those that represent elements or SI units. As most dictionaries don’t carry proper nouns, you won’t find New York = NY, but you will find NY = New York. The second approach, while robbing the setter of wordplay ammunition, is a more thoughtful one, giving the solver a chance to actually know and recognise a word that needs to be abbreviated. In the “captain = c” case, I guarantee most would have seen this on TV or in a newspaper, and would certainly be more familiar with it than “succeeded = s” (that appears in a number of references in relation to genealogical notation) that regularly appears in Britsh cryptics.
I intentionally used another “captain”-style abbreviation this week to see if anyone would flag it. “world record = WR” doesn’t appear in any of my references but everyone has seen it used to indicate a world record at international sporting events, especially the Olympics. It’s commonly used, but not in a dictionary, so is it Ok to use in cryptic clues?