I was amused to read in last week’s The Wall Street Journal that Procter & Gamble Co., the Cincinnati-based consumer products conglomerate, has its own little meta-language.
Quoth the Journal: "P&G employees are known for loading their communications with abbreviations like CIB ('consumer is boss'), FMOT ('first moment of truth,' or the moment when consumers notice a product in a store) and SMOT (the 'second moment of truth,' when they use it)."
There are said to be dozens of these, forcing some employees to carry glossaries in their briefcases. I placed a call to a lieutenant colonel in P&G's vast army of public relations flacks, hoping to learn more code. I'm sure her assistant labelled my message CCC, for crank columnist calling. I never heard back.
I bet those quick little abbreviations blend neatly into corporatespeak, where there are never "problems," only "challenges," and where people are "RIF'ed" (reduction in force) rather than fired.
Apple computer executives probably have their own handy shorthand, BOP: backdate options please. At auto maker Daimler, the memos are peppered with ADC, for achtung! dump Chrysler. Meanwhile, at General Motors, which just lost the title of the world's largest auto maker to Toyota, the catchphrase in the executive suite is PHAOA for Pearl Harbour all over again.
I've been credited with the coinage WGU for Harvard, the world's great university, self-described. That begot W2GU, for Yale, of course. Although I wasn't aware of it at the time, Dr Stephen Bergman, writing under the pen name Samuel Shem, had ploughed some of this ground in his 1978 novel, House of God.
"God" takes place in the Harvard Medical School complex, and HMS becomes BMS, or best medical school. Mass. General—MGH—becomes MBH, for man's best hospital. The phrase man's greatest hospital has been known to pass Harvard doctors' lips.
House of God, still widely read, launched some other unforgettable acronyms. An undesirable patient was a GOMER, for get out of my emergency room. LOL in NAD stood for little old lady in no apparent distress. The NAD was itself a play on words; in common medspeak, it stands for no abnormality detected. The dark humour of the LOL in NAD was that patients with minor illnesses or injuries would mend much better outside the hospital. If admitted, they risked getting sick.
Medical slang, which can show up on bedside charts, has always shocked and infuriated patients. CTD, for circling the drain, is jarring. On the other hand, it is gentler than reading "About to die" on a loved one's write-up. LOBNH—lights on but nobody home—is self-explanatory. GPO—good for parts only—is a bit crass, as is C/C for cancel Christmas. The patient has died.
Geekspeak has enriched our vocabularies for the past 20 years. LOL—no, not the little lady, this stands for laugh out loud—has entered common parlance. That begot ROTFLOL, rolling on the floor laughing out loud, and many variants. The world of instant messaging produced TTFN, ta-ta for now; GTG, got to go; and the essential POS, for parent (watching) over shoulder. Computer repair types coined the all-too-descriptive PEBCAK, to describe users' many imagined hardware and software glitches: problem exists between chair and keyboard.
I'm sure lawyers must have their handy codes. JDAP, judge dumb as a post. LCWSKTC, litigious client will see kids through college. I can imagine dental hygienists scribbling SIC, sissy in chair; or BDB, beware dungeon breath. Ministers can annotate the church directory: BFH, bound for Hell, or AMCBS, attractive Mother, can be saved. Then there is that all-important notation on college admissions dossiers: HFDTTBR, for hedge fund daddy, think twicebefore rejecting.
In journalism, we could use codes like OSW for one source wonder or RPR, recycled press release, to describe flimsy stories. APFP would stand for another (Deval) Patrick faux pas, IST for impenetrable (or interminable) science story. Turn down the thermostats for COD, or columnist on deadline. You can expect an inrush of hot air.
We have an internal instant message system here, and I can just imagine the editors chatting as they peruse this latest submission.