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Tag Archives: acronym abuse

If you think acronyms and abbreviations are innocuous, you need to read The Big Short by Michael Lewis, a stark account of ┬áthe 2008 subprime mortgage wipeout– especially his analysis of language used by the Wall Street bond market where “terminology was designed less to convey meaning than to bewilder outsiders.” A CDO, or collateralized debt obligation, sounds a whole lot better than a bag of subprime mortgages given to people with no jobs and no intentions of getting jobs. A subprime mortgage bond was called ABS, or asset backed security. Who cares what the asset is, or whether it even is one? Everyone wants to have nice ABS, right? And there were a whole universe of such acronymic “products” available: RMBS, HELs (as in “going to HEL”), HELOCs, Alt-A (which meant an alternative to creditworthy) and they even changed the word to “subprime” to “midprime”. According to Lewis, “any acronym or abbreviation could more clearly be called a ‘subprime loan’, but the bond market didn’t want to be clear. ‘Midprime’ was kind of a triumph of language over truth.” It’s all a Semantic Hallucination Inducing Timebomb.

In reality, this use of language is the kind of re-branding you’d find in basic marketing 101, (if you built a subdivision on a former garbage dump, just call it “Renaissance Valley”) it just happened be used to help mask the greatest unregulated Ponzi scheme in world history. When your language is fraudulent, so is everything behind it. The fact that anyone outside Wall Street would invest in any bond Wall Street has to offer, in the form of an acronym or not, is a mystery to me. Until it is regulated and entirely transparent at the very least and maybe not until the financial sector can no longer buy Washington through lobbyists or direct payment.

If you’re an outsider like me and have an interest in the gory details of how the fraud came undone, read The Big Short. 13 Bankers by Simon Johnson gives a more thorough account of how powerful the Wall Street bankers are right now and some historical context for how it could be dealt with. Teddy Roosevelt once took on the richest Trusts in the nation and broke them up, recognizing that there is no free market when a handful of people own almost everything. Perhaps the same can be done with the banks that are “too big to fail” which really means, even according to Alan Greenspan, “too big to exist”. TBTE!

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Forgive the rudeness in the title, a juvenile reference to The Great Outdoors with the Great John Candy. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember the contents of a hot dog: lips and assholes. If you haven’t seen it, take a look:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=001dtJ0srBI

Well, in the never-ending corporate quest for dumb buzz acronyms, Sears has come up with LPS (“our Lowest Prices of the Season”). The actual acronym accounts for only three of the six words in the phrase, which gives it a 50% letter accountability rate (percentage of letters in a phrase actually used for the acronym). If they had changed the phrase to Our Lowest Damned Prices Of The Season, they could have had OLD POTS as the acronym which would have a 100% letter accountability rate and about the same level of relevance.

I know this is an irrelevant question, but if you are having a sale, doesn’t the word “sale” indicate that the price you are getting is lower than usual? How often does a price fluctuate in a season anyway? Doesn’t a consumer get more information from a tag like “50% off” or a comparison between the sale price and the regular price (both of which Sears offers on their flyers, by the way)? LPS is a flagrant act of gratuitous acronym usage — the point of it seems solely to include a set of buzz letters in their marketing material regardless of their usefulness…..Never mind… When considering acronyms and hot dogs, its better not to ask what went into making them…

Here is another example of flagrant acronym abuse for you to consider:

Just yesterday a radio host in Toronto referred to the Canadian band Great Big Sea as GBS. To me the sole justification for acronym usage is to abbreviate very lengthy sets of words that become tedious with constant repetition. For instance, the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Call them CUPE (kewpee, as in the doll) by all means. But Great Big Sea? The total syllable count is exactly the same as GBS. That’s gratuitous acronym usage, especially when you’re not even writing it down. Compare that to CUPE, which saves 10 syllables of your valuable breath each time you utter it. That’s efficient acronym usage, and strained vocal chords everywhere are thankful. For musicians, there are alternatives. Consider, for a moment, the Bee Gees. They easily could have left it at BGs. But the addition of those four extra “e”s cemented their reputation as a thoughtful and counter-cultural voice in the wilderness of the dying word.